Let me share with you a powerful lesson about treating animals with respect. The Torah states, “You shall not plough with an ox and a donkey together.” The Chizkuni explains the rationale behind this great mitzvah. An ox chews its cud while a donkey eats its food only once. The Torah is concerned that the donkey may see the ox chewing and chewing and wonder why he’s managed to get his lunch early, while he’s still working hard and getting hungrier and hungrier!
As far as rabbis go, I’m pretty tolerant of what people do in shul. It’s a rare occasion for me to tell anyone not to talk. After all, we’re all guilty of speaking a little too much when we should be quietly davening. But if there is one thing that disturbs me, which I have been known to ask congregants to desist from, that’s chewing gum. I’m not a big fan of the habit at the best of times, but when someone gets called up to the Torah and they’re happily chewing away, I will hand them a tissue and ask them to put the gum away until after their aliya.
So, short of chewing gum, what’s the next best way to emulate those satisfied kosher animals and chew our cud?
מַתְנִי׳ חֲמִשָּׁה חֲבוּרוֹת שֶׁשָּׁבְתוּ בִּטְרַקְלִין אֶחָד, בֵּית שַׁמַּאי אוֹמְרִים: עֵירוּב לְכׇל חֲבוּרָה וַחֲבוּרָה, וּבֵית הִלֵּל אוֹמְרִים: עֵירוּב אֶחָד לְכוּלָּן. גְּמָ׳ אָמַר רַבִּי יְהוּדָה הַסַּבָּר: לֹא נֶחְלְקוּ בֵּית שַׁמַּאי וּבֵית הִלֵּל עַל מְחִיצוֹת הַמַּגִּיעוֹת לַתִּקְרָה שֶׁצְּרִיכִין עֵירוּב לְכׇל חֲבוּרָה וַחֲבוּרָה. עַל מָה נֶחְלְקוּ — עַל מְחִיצוֹת שֶׁאֵין מַגִּיעוֹת לַתִּקְרָה, שֶׁבֵּית שַׁמַּאי אוֹמְרִים: עֵירוּב לְכׇל חֲבוּרָה וַחֲבוּרָה, וּבֵית הִלֵּל אוֹמְרִים: עֵירוּב אֶחָד לְכוּלָּן.
הסבר – על שם חורפיה קרי ליה הכי
רבי יהודה הסבר – רבינו חננאל גריס הסבך פירוש גדיל לסבכה כעין מצנפת וכובע כמו שבכים מעשה שבכה
MISHNA: With regard to five groups of people who spent Shabbat in one mansion, Beit Shammai say: An eruv is required for each and every group. And Beit Hillel say: One eruv suffices for all of them. GEMARA: Rabbi Yehuda the Thinker said: Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel did not disagree about partitions that reach the ceiling, as all agree that they require a separate contribution to the eiruv for each and every group. With regard to what did they disagree? With regard to partitions that do not reach the ceiling, as Beit Shammai say: An eiruv is required for each and every group, and Beit Hillel say: One eiruv suffices for all of them.
Rashi: He was called ‘The Thinker’ on account of his sharpness.
Tosfos: Rabbeinu Chananel’s version reads ‘The Milliner,’ meaning that he was a prominent hat-maker.
Who was Rabbi Yehuda HaSabar? While Rashi associates the title with ‘thinking’ or ‘sharpness’, the Hagahos Yaavetz suggests that Tosfos demurs on account of the fact that only this particular Sage is given the title. It is hard to imagine that no other Sage was as wise as him, especially given the fact that we do not find his opinions recorded on every other Daf, as we do some of our more famous Sages.
Perhaps the meaning of sabar is more related to the ability to form an opinion than exhibiting sharpness. In order to be a judge, according to halacha, one must be ‘gamir v’savir,’ which means that he is knowledgeable and able to form opinions on new cases as they arise, based on his prior learning.
We often find that our Sages used lashon sagi nahor – they spoke euphemistically. So, for example, the actual word for ‘euphemistic’ in Aramaic is ‘sagi nahor’, which means ‘filled with light’ and is the term for a blind person. In this case, ‘sabar’ might imply that he did not form many opinions. He sat quietly in the back of the Beis Midrash, listening to the other rabbis engaging in collegial debate. Only on the rare occasion would he rise and offer an opinion. But when he did, suddenly the room went quiet and everyone tuned in to his thoughtful ideas.
Nowadays, everyone thinks they’re entitled to an opinion on everything. But most of the time, we’re lacking the Talmudic prequalification of ‘gamir’ – the requisite knowledge to be entitled to an opinion. It’s not easy to display the humility of Rabbi Yehuda and listen quietly to what’s being said by others. Certainly, there are times when one is obligated to speak up. And on those occasions, it will be abundantly clear based on your prior knowledge that your opinion is valid and significant.
The rest of the time, most of us would do much better absorbing the wisdom of those with greater knowledge and experience than ourselves. You don’t have to have an opinion about everything. True greatness is to absorb enough information until you have the ability to argue an issue for both sides of the debate and then to conclude to those listening that you have yet to make up your mind on the matter and that you still have to chew it over.
Chewing it over is a sign of being kosher. It’s a sign of humility and patience. There’s no need to run off to the next meal or debate, when you’re still absorbing and chewing over the knowledge you’ve gained thus far. And there’s no need to take a side and express an opinion on every issue prior to gaining a deep and thorough understanding of the matter.
May you master the kosher trait of chewing your cud!