Not Just Your Average Donkey
By Boruch Merkur

Let me ask you something: If you were assigned the task to enter into a fascist regime to rescue an entire people, a nation of several million, from centuries of harsh exile and bitter enslavement, and to stand on their behalf before the governing powers-that-be, a cold-hearted dictator, insisting, "let my people go!" and to lead them back to their homeland with great miracles and wonders - if this was you, would you not expect to travel first-class to arrive upon the scene in style? For sure you wouldn’t expect to have to make your way in the likes of a rickety, old jalopy, being such a very important person on such an important mission!

Moshe Rabbeinu was such a person, a VIP par excellence, and how did he appear on the scene? - schlepping his wife and children through the desert on a donkey.

An alternate scenario: If your were the heir to the throne of an ancient royal dynasty and a spiritual leader of such influence that you managed to inspire millions to follow G-d’s law to the letter; if you were a visionary and an activist who succeeded in changing the face of the world as we know it and in rebuilding the Holy Temple, the symbol and manifestation of G-d’s presence on earth; if you managed to gather the Jewish people from the four corners of the earth to settle in their homeland and to awaken the entire world to serve G-d together; if you put an end to famine and war, and an end to jealousy and rivalry; if you brought the world to a state in which goodness flowed in abundance and all the world’s delicacies were as common as dust; and if you served as a conduit for understanding the secrets of the Torah, filling the world with the knowledge of G-d - if you were this leader, if you were the one destined to fulfill all of this, you would certainly expect to approach your mission surrounded with nothing but grandeur and royalty. Indeed, you would expect a Heavenly chariot to swoop down and carry you off to perform this sacred mission.

The long-awaited Messianic King is such a leader - but it is said that he will appear on the scene as "[a] humble [man] riding on a donkey."


Besides being two of the world’s greatest personalities, Moshe and Moshiach have something else in common, they are both known to travel by donkey. In fact, Moshiach will ride upon the same old donkey used by Moshe.

Old indeed! Well over three thousand years old! Ancient.

I can understand nostalgia for the classic and the antique - but an old donkey!

Ah, but this is not just your average donkey; this is the quintessential donkey, this is a donkey whom the Torah refers to as "the donkey," as it is written, "And Moshe took his wife and his sons and had them ride upon the donkey, and he returned to the land of Egypt."

On the words, "upon the donkey," Rashi, the classic Torah commentator, explains: "[upon] the particular donkey - the donkey that Avrohom saddled for the Binding of Yitzchok, and the donkey upon which the Messianic King will be revealed, as it is said, ‘[a] humble [man] riding on a donkey.’"

Rashi details the donkey’s history in order to identify what the Torah refers to as "the donkey," the donkey who is so well-known that it is referred to with the definitive article (i.e., "the"). And to explain how Moshe Rabbeinu (an important person on an important mission) could travel in such a lowly manner (by donkey, and not on something more upscale and glamorous, like a horse or a camel) Rashi tells us that this is not your average donkey; this is a "particular donkey." Rashi explains that this is the donkey designated for the redemption of the Jewish people, namely, "the donkey upon which the Messianic King will be revealed."

Okay, so it makes sense for Rashi to trace the donkey’s identity to Moshiach, but for what reason does Rashi mention the connection of the donkey to Avrohom Avinu? Also, what does the donkey have to do with the redemption of the Jewish people?

The Rebbe answers these questions according to the Torah’s inner, esoteric dimension, according to the "wine of the Torah," as they say, "in comes the wine and out goes the secrets."


The word used in the Torah for donkey is "chamor," a word that also alludes to the physical coarseness of the world. The physical world typically serves to conceal G-dliness, but through the Torah the Jewish people have the ability to "redeem" the world by refining it and making it a fit vessel for G-dliness.

In this sense, the connection between "the donkey" (ha’chamor) and the Redemption is the connection between coarse physicality (chumrius) and the state of its "redemption," its ultimate state of refinement. As it says in the classic chassidic text, the Tanya, that the ultimate state of the creation of the world will be in the Days of Moshiach, "when the physicality of the body and the world will be purified to the extent that they will be able to receive the revelation of the light of G-d."

Rashi explains how the great spiritual leader, Moshe Rabbeinu, could seemingly lower his stature to travel by donkey, the symbol of the very coarseness of the world - for this is a "particular donkey," the donkey designated for the Redemption, the donkey upon which Moshiach himself rides. That is, this is by no means a lowly act, for the conquest to refine the physical world actually brings about the ultimate state of Creation, the ultimate Redemption.


Avrohom Avinu’s use of the donkey signifies the first stage of a three-stage process of "redeeming" the physical world. Regarding Avrohom it says that he merely "saddled" the donkey; whereas with regards to Moshe, although it does not say that he actually rode the donkey himself, still he "took his wife and his sons and had them ride upon the donkey"; and concerning Moshiach it says that he will be "revealed" to the world "riding on a donkey."

In the time of Avrohom Avinu, when the Torah had still not been given, the coarseness of the world had still not been refined and purified. The accomplishment of Avrohom was to prepare the world for the revelation at Mount Sinai by subjugating and shattering the coarseness of the world so that it would no longer obstruct G-dliness from shining through. Thus, Rashi writes, "this is the donkey that Avrohom saddled," for "saddling" is an act of taming and subjugating.

By the time of Moshe Rabbeinu, however - after the bodies of the Jewish people had been purified through harsh labor in the "smelting pot" of Egypt, where they were forced to work with mortar (chomer) and bricks - the process of purifying the physical world had been complete, for the world had finally reached a state in which physicality could act as a vessel for G-dliness. Thus, Moshe Rabbeinu led the Jewish people to Mount Sinai where G-d gave us the Torah and commanded us to observe the mitzvos, to perform acts with physical objects in order to draw holiness into the world.

And so it is said regarding Moshe that he "took his wife and his sons and had them ride upon the donkey." For, after Avrohom Avinu had completed the task of "saddling the donkey," of subjugating the physical world so that it would no longer obstruct G-dliness, it then became possible for "the donkey" to be "ridden upon" and utilized for a holy purpose, it became possible for G-dly light to be channeled through physical objects by using them to do mitzvos.

But still the world itself did not shine...

Only in the time of the ultimate Redemption will the physicality and the coarseness of the world be purified to such an extent that it will function as the chamor (donkey) "upon which the Messianic King will be revealed." The chamor itself, the coarse physicality of the world will itself shine and reveal the light of Moshiach, the light of holiness, thereby functioning as a true vehicle for Divine expression and achieving the ultimate state of Creation. And may it happen now! [Based on Likkutei Sichos, vol. 31, pp. 15-22]


I can understand nostalgia for the classic and the antique – but an old donkey! Ah, but this is not just your average donkey; this is the quintessential donkey!



This is the donkey designated for the redemption of the Jewish people, namely, "the donkey upon which the Messianic King will be revealed."


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