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  • Writer's pictureRabbi Yonah Burr

The Talking Donkey

ויפתח ד' את פי האתון

And Hashem opened the mouth of the donkey

The story of Balaam is an amazing one indeed. Chazal tell us that Balaam suffered from three-character flaws; a haughty spirit, a lust for money, and an evil eye for others. Nevertheless, Hashem granted him the temporary power of prophecy, to give the nations of the world a chance; and to recognize the greatness of Hashem and be part of the destiny of the Jewish People. But after all was said and done, Balaam remained the same underdeveloped person, and disappeared into oblivion.

But another interesting thing in his story jumps out at us; another miracle occurred, and even his donkey was able to speak! Hashem temporarily gave Balaam’s beast the power of speech, and was even able to best Balaam and embarrass him in front of Balak’s dignitaries. This seems to be a wonderful miracle, but what purpose did it serve? What is the significance of this seemingly side-bar episode?

Another question: the Mishna in Pirkey Avos tells us, that the miraculous mouth of the donkey was actually created right before Shabbos during the sixth days of creation. Why was this miracle so much greater than any other miracle, that it needed to be included in the very creation?

The Dorash Dovid explains the message beautifully.

When we daven, learn, or perform any act of kindness or mitzva, it has the power to uplift and transform us. Hashem gave us the ability to perfect ourselves, and become ever closer to Hashem and His Torah. However, unfortunately, the possibility exists for a person to go through the motions of service, without it having any everlasting effect on him at all. This is truly a tragedy, but unfortunately a reality. We need to ‘allow’ the Torah to transform us, and allow it to penetrate and get internalized. It is possible to have ‘defenses’ built around us, that prevent the Torah and Mitzvos from getting through. Moshe Rabbeinu is the model how much a person can perfect himself, and we can all try to maximize our potential and be compared to Moshe; while Balaam is the example of the opposite; how much potential a person can have and let it go to waste.

The ‘donkey’ symbolizes this phenomenon; the donkey was granted the power of speech, but remained a donkey. Balaam was granted the power of prophecy, but remained the lowly Balaam. The miracle of the donkey, then, was to reflect the miracle of Balaam’s prophecy.

The Mishna in Avos is teaching us that this is really a supernatural phenomenon; to actually have ruchniyos but not allowing it to elevate us is something unnatural; naturally it should inspire us to grow, but the possibility does exist for the Torah to not change us if we don’t let it.

But if we are open to growth and change, the Torah will automatically uplift and transform us.

May we all merit to serve Hashem with Torah and Mitzvos, and allow ourselves to be transformed by it!

Have a wonderful Shabbos

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