Shabbat 6 Shevat 5783 (28.01.23)
A Separate Rule for Donkeys?
וְכׇל־פֶּ֤טֶר חֲמֹר֙ תִּפְדֶּ֣ה בְשֶׂ֔ה וְאִם־לֹ֥א תִפְדֶּ֖ה וַעֲרַפְתּ֑וֹ וְכֹ֨ל בְּכ֥וֹר אָדָ֛ם בְּבָנֶ֖יךָ תִּפְדֶּֽה׃
“But every firstling donkey you shall redeem with a sheep; if you do not redeem it, you must break its neck. And you must redeem every male first-born among your children.”
All the firstborn right belongs to Hashem as it is written in verse 12: “You must set apart for G-d every first issue of the womb.”
If it is first-born kosher animal, it is set apart and given to the priest. The animal is sacrificed in the Temple, the blood is sprinkled on the altar, the fat is offered on it and the meat is eaten by the priests.
Since a non-kosher animal cannot be sacrificed, it must be redeemed. The owner must pay the priest its value.
However, a special rule applies to a donkey: the owner of the animal gives the priest a lamb or a kid, not the value of the donkey.
(First-born male children may be “redeemed” in a special procedure called “Pidyon HaBen”).
Which brings us to the question of why there is a separate rule for donkeys.
Give Thanks to the Donkey
Despite being an unclean animal, the donkey (seems to be) is elevated to a higher status, so to speak, and is also sacrificed in the Temple – only not actually but substituting place by means of a lamb or a kid.
A reason for this exception is given by Rashi: “because they (the donkeys) were of assistance to the Israelites when they left Egypt, for there was not a single Israelite who did not take with him from Egypt several asses laden with the silver and gold of Egypt.” (Bekhorot 5b)
It is his reward for a crucial task. G-d had promised to Abraham that his descendants would take the wealth of Egypt with them, and the donkeys were needed for that. And HaShem rewards every creature that does what its task is.
A Constant Reminder
The donkey being thanked for the good deeds it did at the exodus is at once a good reminder of the exodus. The moment after the death of all the firstborn of Egypt and the deliverance of the firstborn of Israel.
“Firstborn” refers to the intellect. The intellect of Egypt was in the material world. The animal soul that had no understanding of Hashem. Egypt therefore asks, “Who is Hashem, that I might know Him?”
Because somewhere Egypt does have a point. The Tanya teaches “none grasp Him,” even among all the celestial intellects, not one can grasp the essence and being of G-d. This can make that we give up trying to know Him and follow our own intellect and lose ourselves in the material world.
It is this intellect – the firstborn of Egypt that is killed.
But there is more – the firstborn of Israel. Because deep inside, our intuition understands much more of G-d’s essence. It longs for Him and wants to know Him and connect with Him. This intuition developed in us a divine intellect. It is the intellect that makes us understand that everything is created by Him. That in the material world we learn to see the divine, small miracles that allow His greatness to be experienced.
The Hebrew word for donkey is chamor חמור – you can rearrange the letters into chomer חומר which means material. If the unclean animal, uses the material for the purpose Hashem desires (in this case bringing the riches for Israel to the land) the donkey too becomes holy and is given a separate status.
And so the donkey is a constant reminder that we must kill our animal soul – so that we do not sink into the material world, but develop our intuition to use the material for HaShem more and more.
A Noahide Donkey?
A Noahide leaves his familiar material world of feasts and customs. Many things that used to be important have become dead acts and rituals without value.
Yet there are skills learned, texts researched that are valuable and can be used on this new path of life. It is bringing gifts on the donkey of humility and gratitude for the good that Hashem also gave in a previous way of life.
Many of us have followed our intuition by going in search of the truth, and have now found it as Noahide. It makes it so that when the Third Temple becomes visible, we too may go up and pray at the House of HaShem, which is a Place of Prayer for all nations, and give our offerings to Hashem to the priests.
By Angelique Sijbolts
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