The ox and the donkey
Devarim, Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22
An ox knows its owner, and a donkey knows its master’s crib. But Israel does not know; my people does not consider.
— Isaiah 1:3
On the Shabbat before Tisha B’Av, the Haftora reading comes from the first chapter of Isaiah. In this chapter, the prophet expresses his tragic vision that the people of Israel will be severely punished for their lack of faithfulness to Hashem and to His Torah.
He compares Israel unfavorably to an ox or a donkey. While these animals recognize their owners and obey them, Israel does neither. Hashem took us out of slavery in Egypt and lovingly cared for our every need in the desert, yet we refuse to follow His laws or to show any gratitude to Him.
As the “Crown of Creation,” we human beings should understand that Hashem created us and wants us to choose to obey him out of love. But we display less intelligence than these simple animals.
The saying “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you” means we should not turn on someone who has supported us. But instead of gratitude, Isaiah says we have repaid Hashem bad for the good he has done for us.
Tisha B’Av is the day on which many calamities and misfortunes occurred to the Jewish people. The most terrible of these was the destruction of the First and Second Temples (in 586 B.C.E. and 70 C.E. respectively). These were not merely coincidences. We look inward to search our souls and ask in what way did our own disunity, disloyalty and rebellion contribute to these events.
As Tisha B’Av approaches, we must take seriously the words of Isaiah. May Hashem help us to return to Him with all of our hearts. May the day soon come when the moshiach (messiah) will arrive and we will no longer have to fast and mourn, but instead will celebrate Tisha B’Av as a great festival.
(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)