Today is April 12, 2024 / /

The Torah Learning Library of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah

Donkey Stories

by Rabbi Daniel Epstein (Posted on June 22, 2023)
Topics: Korach, Sefer Bamidbar, Torah

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

AI generated image

A boy was daydreaming during class one day and started wondering. If I am riding on a beam of light and turn on a flashlight will it go past me? What an interesting question. Some might scoff and think it was a worthless inquiry, but not this boy. He kept thinking about it and thinking about it and dedicated his life to this question.

This boy’s name was Albert Einstein, and this question was whether something can travel faster than the speed of light. This was very important when he developed his theory of relativity years later. The C in E= MC2 is a constant, the speed of light.

I call strange, weird questions like this Einstein questions. Einstein questions are incredibly valuable when you’re learning Torah. They sometimes focus more on the theoretical than the practical. Sometimes they are called thought experiments, like Schrödinger’s cat or the trolley problem. 

I have an Einstein question for this week’s parsha. It comes from Benay Lappe, the Rosh Yeshiva of the Svara Yeshiva. What if Donkeys read the Torah? If you think about it, if donkeys read the Torah, they would look at all the donkey stories. They would remember those stories and they would love the donkey stories, because we remember and resonate with stories about us or related to us.

If you read through this week’s parsha, Korach, Moshe mentions a donkey in passing. In our Haftarah Shmuel also mentions a donkey. They both mention them in the context of speeches they are making about leadership. About how they did not enrich themselves personally through their leadership position. They didn’t even take a donkey (Num. 16:15, Samuel 12:3).

I looked through the whole Tanakh for these donkey stories and I was fascinated at the lessons I learned. One lesson is that a donkey represents anavis, being humble. The idea is that the donkey is juxtaposed to the horse. When you are on a horse you are standing much higher, but when you are on a donkey you are lower. It’s almost the lowest level but you are still riding on something and not walking.

Avraham rides a donkey, David rides a donkey, and the messiah will ride a donkey. It is very fascinating to think about the role that the donkey plays. We see a lesson that leaders are supposed to be humble. We only learned this lesson from paying attention to the donkey stories. That’s the deeper lesson about Einstein questions. They go from the theoretical to the practical and end up being very applicable.

Another deep lesson from the donkey stories is that we need to read the Torah from the view of the donkey or from the view of an archer or from a feminist view, or from the view of the streams or mountains. Through all these different views we are able to get the larger picture of the Torah.

Shabbat Shalom.