“You shall not plough with an ox and a donkey together.” [Devarim22:10]
Whilst this commandment forms one of the hukim, or statutes for which there is no clear rational reason, many commentators, over the ages, have given insights into the significance of this mitzvah.
Moses Maimonides in the Guide for the Perplexed relates the prohibition to that against the interbreeding of species. He says that not only the ox and donkey, but associating any two species for any work is forbidden to guard against interbreeding. The Torah mentions the ox and donkey as these were most often encountered.
The Zohar explains that the ox and the donkey taken separately do not cause harm, but as soon as they are hitched together, they can become dangerous. It is for reasons of personal safety that the farmer must avoid ploughing with the ox and donkey together.
Tosefot explains that the ox chews the cud whereas the donkey eats its food only once. When the donkey sees that that the ox, many hours after the meal, is still chewing, it will become jealous! Why is he still munching food and I have none!
Some years ago, I had gone to consult the then Chief Rabbi, Lord Jakobovits, on a communal matter. He shared with me the following passage from the Sefer Hachinuch on the above verse. The Sefer Hachinuch sees this commandment as a warning for harmonious relations in the human workplace. Don’t put in harness two people who are totally unsuited to working together. Employers and Managers have a responsibility to ensure that their employees and staff, at every level of the workplace are deployed in a manner to avoid industrial disputes. To ignore such advice is not only commercial folly, but it comes under the category of ‘You shall not plough with the ox and donkey together.’
This can be an issue especially at the highest level. A Prime Minister or President will want to put together the best possible team for the benefit of the country. David Cameron, in his autobiography, For The Record, writes that he wanted the big beasts inside the Cabinet rather than sniping from the backbenches. Inevitably, big personalities with big egos can rub up against each other and creative tension can easily disintegrate into rancour and strife. Some leaders, like Abraham Lincoln, had a superb gift for creating and managing a Team of Rivals. Others, with lesser skills, would be well advised to heed the advice of our verse and ensure those who are in harness together are best suited to work together.