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    Even the animals – Vayakhel

    We should never brush aside the Midrash as mere picturesque legends. There is a deep message to be found throughout midrashic material.

    An example: the sidra speaks of God “placing wisdom and understanding in them” (natan HaShem chochmah ut’vunah bahemah: Ex. 36:1).

    The Midrash notices that the last word seems to have a superfluous letter at the end. “In them” should be bahem: so why does the verse read bahemah?

    The spelling reminds us of the Hebrew b’hemah, an animal. The Midrash therefore comments, afilu b’hemot hayu mit’chach’min – “even the animals can become wise”.

    Such an animal was Bilam’s ass, which protested at the way its master was treating it. Another was Rabbi Pinchas ben Ya’ir’s donkey, which refused to eat produce that had not been tithed.

    Isaiah (ch. 1) attests that the ox knows its master, and the ass knows its master’s home. The sages say that the animals can speak, and each type of animal has its own language.

    Animal intelligence is not a modern discovery.

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