Beit Midrash

  • Family and Society
  • Torah and Daily Life
To dedicate this lesson

Are Four Ears Twice As Good AsTwo?


Rabbi Berel Wein

Elul 5768
The latest sensation on a day when hard news was scarce for the news channels was to interview the owners of a cat that apparently has four ears instead of the usual two. The Talmud rules that extra is as though the original organ is missing so in halacha the cat is considered to have no ears. Be that as it may it is obvious that the pictures disseminated by television and internet show a black cat that has four ears protruding from the two sides of its head. Genetic abnormalities occur randomly throughout the animal kingdom. Some people are born with extra toes or fingers. But genetic abnormalities always spawn interest and curiosity. Hence the current celebrity status of this cat and of its proud owners, who are being interviewed regularly on international television throughout the world. One only hopes that this is not the usual prank or hoax that so often arises on a day when factual hard news is hard to come by. For there is a great moral lesson involved in ears. The reason that we humans have two ears is to allow us to hear differing and opposite opinions and advice and analysis. So perhaps four ears are even better than two ears since that will allow us to hear even more opinions. But on the other hand too much advice is confusing and two many voices create a dissonance. The rabbis said "Two voices raised simultaneously cannot be heard clearly." Four voices raised simultaneously certainly cannot be heard clearly.

Pluralism is a watchword today in politics, religion, social behavior and basic standards of human behavior. I am okay and you are okay. We are all okay. But deep down in our hearts and in the recess of our consciences we are aware that is a false panacea to all of our personal and social ills. We are not all okay and not all ideas and policies are wise, just and productive. There is far too much noise and cacophony of sound in the Jewish world today. Every offbeat idea and person is granted a serious hearing in our media. In fact, the more offbeat and obviously discredited the person, organization or idea is the greater the media coverage granted to it will be. In truth, much of what we see happening before us only confirms the ludicrous fact that the inmates are running the asylum. New forms of Judaism, of worship, of peaceniks, new humanitarians and new philosophies abound and receive serious attention. Yet they are all blowing in the wind. Extra ears, at least four of them, are required to be able to deal with these never ending new explosions of dissonance. The Jewish world is in danger of pluralising itself out of business completely. Not every idea is worthy of publication nor is every extremist non-conformist or iconoclast worthy of respect and consideration. We have only two ears and that usually suffices for all emergencies and daily life.

There was a time when corruption, infidelity and really bad behavior always brought an end to public careers. Not so today. There was a time when previously failed policies were discarded and mistakes were not repeated just for the sake of the appearance of doing something and being proactive. Again, this is not the case today. We are so jaded by all of the ideas, organizations and political flim-flam that surround us that the public is now so apathetic and helpless that it seems to care little about anything - even about the life and death issues that confront us. The media contributes to this sorry state by searching only for the sensational and offbeat to publicize. The public is bombarded by so many conflicting theories and policies, most of them wrongheaded if not downright dangerous and treasonous, that it is at a loss to hear anything reasonable and react to it properly. Even four ears are insufficient in our present society to absorb everything that is constantly being thrown at us. There are now technical means of eliminating background noise and sharpening sounds that we wish to hear. Would that such technology would be available for all of the social and political noises that surround us. We hear too much and are terribly confused and that accounts for the public apathy and feeling of defeatism that permeates our society. Not everyone is right and not every idea and policy is correct and productive. We do not have enough ears for all of that.
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