Rashi to Shemos 31:17 states:

וינפש: כתרגומו ונח, וכל לשון נופש והוא לשון נפש, שמשיב נפשו ונשימתו בהרגיעו מטורח מהמלאכה. ומי שכתוב בו (ישעיה מ כח) לא ייעף ולא יגע, וכל פעלו במאמר, הכתיב מנוחה לעצמו, לשבר האוזן מה שהיא יכולה לשמוע: and rested: Heb. וַיִּנָפַשׁ. As the Targum [Onkelos] renders: וְנָח, and rested. Now every expression of נוֹפֶשׁ, rest, is an expression of נֶפֶשׁ, soul, for one regains one’s soul and one’s breath when one rests from the toil of work. He about Whom it is written: “He neither tires nor wearies” (Isa. 40:28), and Whose every act is performed by speech [alone, without physical effort], dictated rest in reference to Himself [only] in order to make it understood to the [human] ear with words that it can understand.

The word לשבר can also mean to break, in fact I usually her the term לשבר האוזן used to mean to "break the ear" meaning so say something so outlandish to either prove a point or beg a question. What does the term לשבר האוזן really mean and are there (other) instances of its use by chazal?

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    Until you asked your question I always understood the expression as the translation of Rashi you quote did( and "לשבר" being with a Shin Semalit and being along the same idea as the root "סבר", in the sense of "le-Hasbir", meaning "to explain", and "Sever Panim", meaning "affability, geniality, or cordiality"). I now see, after googling, that it has started being used more recently( with a Shin Yemanit) to express being unnecessarily long-winded( in the sense of "hurting the ear"). – Tamir Evan Mar 5 '13 at 6:14

Ya'aqov Etzyon, in the article "משבירים ושוברים"( in the section entitled "לשבר את האוזן"), brings Rashi on Shemot 19:18, s.v. ha-Kivshan, which says:

הכבשן: של סיד, יכול ככבשן זה ולא יותר, תלמוד לומר (דברים ד יא) בוער באש עד לב השמים. ומה תלמוד לומר כבשן, לשבר את האוזן, מה שהיא יכולה לשמוע, נותן לבריות סימן הניכר להם. כיוצא בו (הושע יא י) כאריה ישאג, וכי מי נתן כח בארי, אלא הוא, והכתוב מושלו כאריה, אלא אנו מכנין ומדמין אותו לבריותיו, כדי לשבר את האוזן מה שיכולה לשמוע. וכיוצא בו (יחזקאל מג ב) וקולו כקול מים רבים, וכי מי נתן קול למים, אלא הוא, ואתה מכנה אותו לדמותו לבריותיו, כדי לשבר את האוזן

the kiln: [used for the baking] of lime. I could think that it means [Mount Sinai smoked] like the kiln and no more. Therefore, [to clarify this,] Scripture states: “[the mountain was] blazing with fire up to the heart of the heaven” (Deut. 4:11) [meaning that the fire was far greater than in a lime kiln]. Why then does the Torah say "kiln"? In order to explain to the [human] ear what it is able to hear, [i.e., to give the reader a picture that can be imagined]. He gives the creatures [humans] a sign familiar to them. Similar to this [is the description in reference to God:] “He shall roar like a lion” (Hos. 11:10). Who but Him gave strength to the lion? Yet the Scriptures compare Him to a lion? But we describe Him and compare Him to His creatures in order to explain to [humans] what the ear is able to hear. Similar to this [is], “And its sound [the voice of God] was like the sound of abundant waters” (Ezek. 43:2). Now who gave the water a sound but He? Yet you describe Him and compare Him to His creatures in order to explain to [humans] what the ear is able to hear. — [from Mechilta]

Ya'aqov Etzyon( in the name of "researchers") understands this to mean, that Torah is using a figurative expression, to bring the concept closer to our understanding, so it can "crack open the ear"( the expression "כדי שתבקע אוזן" is in fact used in the Mekhilta on Shemot 19:5), and make it's way through, and settle in the heart.

On the other hand( not mentioned in said article), the Mekhilta on Shemot 19:18( which is given as Rhashi's source, in the translation I quoted above) says:

ומה תלמוד לומר כבשן? לשכך את האוזן מה שהיא יכולה לשמוע

וכיוצא בו: אריה שאג מי לא יירא מי נתן כח וגבורה בארי, לא הוא?! אלא הרי אנו מכנין אותו, לשכך את האוזן

כיוצא בו: הנה כבוד אלוהי ישראל בא מדרך הקדים וגו'. מי נתן כח וגבורה במים, לא הוא?! אלא הרי אנו מכנין אותו מבריותיו, לשכך האוזן

and in my translation:

Why does the Torah say Kivshan(kiln)? To soothe the ear [with] what it can [bear to] hear.

And similar to this: “He shall roar like a lion”. Who gave strength and power to the lion, not Him? But we describe Him thus to soothe the ear.

Similar to this: “and, behold, the glory of the God of Israel came from the way of the east” etc. (Ezek. 43:2). Who gave the water strength and power but He? But we describe Him like His creatures to soothe the ear.

Where Rashi uses "לשבר את האוזן"( or "לשבר האוזן"), the Mekhilta uses "לשכך את האוזן"( "to soothe the ear").

Regarding "לשבר (את) האוזן" itself, my understanding is that Rashi is the first to use it, and other Rishonim used it as well, so it was not, strictly speaking, used by Chazal( in the sense of Chakhamei ha-Mishnah veha-Talmud).

  • Re "Regarding 'לשבר (את) האוזן' itself, my understanding is that Rashi is the first to use it": what is this understanding based on? – msh210 Apr 12 '13 at 14:24
  • @msh210 Basically, it is based on the fact that it was the earliest usage of the term I found mentioned. Also the Mekhilta on Shemot 19:5 uses "כדי שתבקע אוזן", and the same on Shemot 19:18( which Rashi on Shemot 19:18 is said to be based on) uses "לשכך את האוזן", suggesting to me that the term evolved from at least one of those to what Rashi used. – Tamir Evan Apr 13 '13 at 18:20
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    Okay. Did you search earlier (than Rashi) works for the term in support of your claim? (Incidentally, I wonder whether one of לשבר and לשכך was a typo for the other.) – msh210 Apr 14 '13 at 2:45
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    No, I did not. Also, I was not making a claim. I was only expressing my understanding of what was said in the sources I gave for my answer( and others I left out), regarding something mentioned in the question, that I thought was worth mentioning. If I had based my "claim" on more rigorous research, like that which you asked about, I'd have used more conclusive language, and mentioned how I reached it. – Tamir Evan Apr 14 '13 at 18:43
  • @msh210 +1 for the typo idea.( Sorry I didn't ping you in my last comment.) – Tamir Evan Apr 14 '13 at 18:55

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