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Friday, 17 January, 2020 - 1:23 pm

Donkey (2).jpg Photo by Daniel Burka on Unsplash 

When we read about Moses embarking on his historic Exodus mission, the Torah includes a seemingly random and irrelevant detail: he placed his family on a donkey. At first glance it seems like this may be a classic example of TBU - true but useless - information. What’s the relevance in knowing his family’s mode of transportation?

Strangely enough, the Torah doesn’t mention many seemingly central stories of our forefathers; they’re only discoverable by studying the Midrash and other sources. But this donkey is mentioned?


Taking into account a fundamental principle of Torah study that every detail in Torah is instructional, (as implied by its name - Torah meaning instruction), it only serves to create more confusion. The Torah is trying to communicate something by mentioning this detail - what could it possibly be? How is a donkey key to the Torah’s Exodus message? Or any message for that matter?

To thicken the plot even more - this donkey is described as The Donkey, i.e. the known and recognized donkey. A known donkey? A particular donkey?

When describing the final test that our forefather Abraham underwent, the Torah also mentions a donkey. And it gets even more strange: Moshiach, the ultimate redeemer who will usher in the utopian era of redemption, is described as arriving riding on a donkey. 

Is that The Donkey that Moses used to transport his family? What’s with this donkey that it keeps appearing??

With minimal investigation one can see a slight difference too - Abraham used his donkey as a mode of transportation for his supplies. In Moses’ case, he used the donkey to transport his family. And Moshiach himself will be riding on the donkey.

There’s an insightful and instructional message embedded in this distinctly and Divinely destined donkey. And in truth it doesn’t necessarily have to do with an actual donkey at all. The Hebrew word for donkey, chamor (חמור), uses the very same letters as the word chomer (חומר), meaning tangible, physical, matter.

Our role in this world is to elevate the physicality and corporeality of matter and transform it into something that displays the Divine. In other words, our world in its current state conceals the G-dly life-force that causes it to exist. Our role is to use the physical world for holy work, thereby elevating it and transforming it to holiness.

This work began with Abraham, in his time the “donkey”, i.e. the physical matter of the world, was only able to be used to transport tools and supplies. It wasn’t yet ready to be used for anything higher. By the time Moses was on the scene, the world had been refined to the extent that he could place his family on the donkey. 

Moshiach’s arrival will mark the completion of this process, that’s why Moshaich himself will ride on the donkey. 

Turns out that this donkey detail is much more than a passing reference to an ancient mode of transportation, it’s an insight into our very purpose in life: To transform and elevate the very physical nature of the world we inhabit.

And you thought this detail was simply TBU? Oh no - that’s never the case in the Torah!


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