One of the many mitzvos in this week’s Torah portion of Ki Seitzei is, “You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together” (Devarim 22.10).
At first thought, one would think the harm of plowing with an ox and donkey under the same yoke might be a physical harm. They just are not compatible together to plow a field and might come to hurt each other when put together. This is why the Torah made a prohibition to plow with an ox and donkey together.
However, the Rosh and Daas Zekeinim have a different reason. Their reasonings are very similar to each other, yet slightly different. The Rosh says the reason why one cannot plow with an ox and donkey together is because it is cruelty to animals since the ox chews its cud and looks like he is eating all the time and the donkey sees this and is disturbed. The Daas Zekeinim says it is because the ox chews his cud and the donkey is disturbed by listening to the ox eating. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
Neither reason is due to physical harm, both are due to some psychological response of animalistic feelings by the donkey due to the ox chewing his cud. The Rosh holds that the donkey will be in anguish because it will perceive the ox constantly eating since it chews its cud and will be distressed that he is not constantly eating even if it might not really need to eat all the time. The reality also is that the ox in fact is not constantly eating, rather it is just doing part of his digestive process which is natural for an ox to do. The Daas Zekeinim holds that the sound the ox makes while chewing could be annoying to the donkey and that is why the donkey is suffering. Either way we see that even for something which seems to be miniscule and insignificant, just an annoying sound or a perception which is not really true, the Torah went out of its way to create a mitzvah so that there will not be undue suffering in the world to the donkey.
If that is the sensitivity one should have towards the feelings of animals then all the more so for one’s fellow human beings, who are the purpose of the world’s creation, we should try to relate to and be very sensitive to the feelings and sensitivities of others. Derech eretz kadma liTorah, “Manners come before Torah,” it’s obvious that this is the way one should relate to our fellow human being. Being aware and sensitive to our fellow people’s feelings and insecurities is basic manners and only to animals did Hashem have to create a mitzvah in order to apply sensitivity awareness to them too.