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    Don’t be a donkey – Balak

    donkeySome animals just have no luck. Chief amongst them is the donkey.

    Whilst the Code of Jewish Law says we should start the day like lions, bringing strength and power to the day’s commandments, everyone says, “Don’t be a donkey!” At times we talk about being an ass, but the message is the same.

    Certain things about donkeys give the impression of stupidity, though actually the story of Bilam’s donkey in this week’s sidra (Num. 22) gives quite a different picture.

    Bilam was riding on his donkey and the animal saw an angel of the Lord standing there with a drawn sword, so she diverted from the path. Bilam didn’t see the angel so he thought the donkey was being stupid, and he hit it.

    A second time the same thing happened; a second time the donkey had more perception than Bilam. Bilam was supposed to be a prophet, but at this moment his prophetic sense deserted him and an animal saw more than he did. Next in the story is Bilam shouting at the donkey and the donkey answering back.

    Such a clever animal: no wonder the sages say (Avot 5:9) that this was a special donkey created by God at the beginning of history.

    What does the episode teach us? That no-one should big-note themselves as a prophet – and no-one should brush aside an animal’s capacity to size up a situation.

    “Don’t be a donkey,” they say, but on the other hand one shouldn’t be unkind to the donkeys.

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