Boxing is not a pretty sport. Sometimes, it can get pretty ugly. In 1997, Mike Tyson infamously bit off a piece of Evander Holyfield’s right ear. And yet, unbelievably, the fight continued. And then, not wanting to appear unfair or unjust, Tyson later bit into Holyfield’s left ear, making them both equal!
Nevertheless, Holyfield became an inspiration and lesson in faith to us all. He later forgave Mike Tyson, declaring that he believed in God and divine destiny. May we all aspire to such faith in heaven!
Today’s daf continues the discussion of the compensation one must make for smiting his fellow.
חָנָן בִּישָׁא תְּקַע לֵיהּ לְהָהוּא גַּבְרָא אֲתָא לְקַמֵּיהּ דְּרַב הוּנָא אֲמַר לֵיהּ זִיל הַב לֵיהּ פַּלְגָא דְזוּזָא הֲוָה לֵיהּ זוּזָא מָכָא בָּעֵי לְמִיתְּבֵהּ לֵיהּ מִינֵּיהּ פַּלְגָא דְּזוּזָא לָא הֲוָה מִשְׁתְּקִיל לֵיהּ תְּקַע לֵיהּ אַחֲרִינָא וְיַהֲבֵיהּ נִהֲלֵיהּ
Conan the barbarian once smote someone. He came before Rav Huna for judgment. He said to him: Go and pay him half a half compensation. He had a worn-out zuz, from which he wanted to give his victim the half-zuz he owed. But no money-changer would take it from him. And so, he smote the fellow’s other ear and gave him the entire zuz.
This Talmudic story is the source of the classic lesson we’re taught as kids. “Stop complaining about your sore ear, or else the playground bully will come back over and punch the other one and make them both equal,” we’re told. But of course, that’s ridiculous and makes no sense at all. Sadly, as irrational as it sounds, in our 21st century society the proverbial practice of smiting the other ear with the objective of creating equality is often glorified as ideal practice. Rather than building up and creating different opportunities for those who are weaker, we lower the bar for all.
It happens in the educational arena, such as college admissions. Privileging historically disadvantaged demographics in the name of equality is appropriate, so long as it does not lower the broader level of education. Similarly, at the school level, it is admirable to have an open-door policy for all students, even those with learning challenges. However, the school must provide additional resources to cater to these children’s special needs. Otherwise, the ability for the other students to excel in their studies may be hampered by the need to maintain a slower overall pace in the classroom.
It happens in the realm of men’s and women’s ritual roles as well. Hashem created women and men equal. But in our small mortal minds, equality means homogeneity. Men and women must be exactly the same. And so, in certain non-traditional ideological camps, efforts have been made to ensure that women and men serve Heaven in precisely the same manner. Sadly, when that happens, both women and men suffer. For example, their decision to include women in the minyan count and accord them opportunities to lead services did not result in a total increase in interest and participation amongst the membership. Instead, the men concluded that they were no longer needed and stopped showing up. As strange as it sounds, the same ideologues decided that girls should reach adulthood and become bat-mitzvah at age 13, just like the boys. Incredibly, this aspiration for homogenization denies basic biological differences! Rather than recognizing the special regard Hashem shows women by advancing their physical maturity, they “bite off their ear” and make them just like the boys whose maturational development is naturally delayed.
Rather than believing all should be treated homogeneously, the traditional Torah world recognizes the different strengths of boys and girls, and designs programs uniquely suited to each. The learning format and style of yeshivas and seminaries are very different. Yet, it is precisely this differentiation that has resulted in a level of learning unparalleled in Jewish history. Every year, new institutions of Torah learning are opening for women and men, precisely because we acknowledge their different learning and ritual needs.
Likewise, on a personal level, as parents we must ensure that we are finding ways to engage each of our children in a differentiated, unique approach. King Solomon teaches, “Educate a child according to his manner.” That’s not easy, but if Hashem has given you children of varying abilities and qualities, He has also provided you with the strength and creativity to bring out the best in each one. Don’t ever compromise on achieving excellence for one child in the mistaken belief that all must be treated homogeneously. Insisting that all your children must attend the Mir or medical school is not helpful. At the same time, however, withholding such opportunities from one child so that the others don’t feel bad is equally futile.
One size does not fit all. Attempting to do so results either in clown or lotus shoes. May you celebrate the unique qualities of every child of Hashem and strive to bring out the best in everyone!
Rabbi Dr. Daniel Friedman is the author of The Transformative Daf book series. He battles Christian antisemitism and teaches International Relations at Landers.