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
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."
THE QUINTESSENTIAL 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."
MATERIAL WORLD, MATERIAL DONKEY
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
THE 3-STAGE HISTORY OF THE DONKEY
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
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
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]