For the week ending 4 March 2023 / 11 Adar 5783

Perek Shira: The Song of the Donkey

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The Donkey says:

“Yours, Hashem, is the greatness, the might, the splendor, the triumph, and the majesty; for in all of the heavens and the earth, Yours, Hashem, is the kingship and the raising of all heads.” (Divrei HaYamim 1, 29:11)

The donkey is the classical beast of burden. The Zohar remarks that it “is not arrogant and it does not kick out against its master.” It willingly carries encumbering loads, and it is not fussy about the comfortableness of its sleeping quarters, nor about the cleanliness of its food. It represents the virtue of subjugation to the Master of the world, and it sings, “Yours, Hashem, is the greatness…”

Although the Sages refer to the donkey as “the stupidest amongst domestic animals,” there is what to learn from it. No matter what load Hashem places on our backs, we should have faith that He knows how much we can carry. Even if we do not understand why He wants us to undergo certain challenges, we must carry on with loyal obedience. Hashem understands more than we do.

Following the example of the donkey, we should realize that we ourselves are insignificant and that our only true greatness is our privilege to serve Hashem. It is lowly and shameful to stoop before another human being, but when one buckles to the will of the Master of the world, he emits not a whimper but a song of majesty. Not for naught will the Mashiach come riding on a donkey.

Sources: Shabbos 141a and Zohar, cited in Otzar HaYedios; Knesses Yaakov; Midrash Tanchuma (Balak §9)

A mule, the hybrid offspring of a horse and a donkey, is the product of the transgression of crossbreeding. Hashem chose specific designs for each of His creatures, and the mixture of species contradicts His will.

The Midrash teaches that when non-Jewish kings heard that Hashem commanded us in the Ten Commandments to respect parents like Himself, they acknowledged the utter correctness of all Hashem’s mitzvahs, unlike the selfish decrees of human kings, which are often unreasonable and unfair. The mule is a stark example of the correctness of Hashem’s mitzvahs. Although its breeder succeeded in creating a useful beast of burden, it is also clearly defective, as mules are sterile. They are also known to be harmful to people. Only when the world follows the natural order set by its Creator, and the Jewish people fulfill His commandments, does the world function successfully. The mule is thus a living song of the kings’ acknowledgment.

The Torah is the indispensable manual for life. It has stood the test of time throughout ever-changing world history, despite relentless assault from opposing theologies, and has emerged unchanged. At times, new philosophies confuse the masses to believe that another lifestyle is superior. So may it appear in one or two aspects — like the mule. However, it eventually falls on the roadside of history and does not bear fruits of true success — like the mule. By living according to the Torah in its purest form, passed down through an unbroken tradition from Sinai, our every step echoes the song of the mule.

Sources: Bamidbar Rabbah 8:4; Perek B’Shir based on Yerushalmi Berachos 8:5; Tziltzal Knafayim

*In loving memory of Harav Zeev Shlomo ben Zecharia Leib

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