The Hebrew word Chamor, usually translated as an ass or donkey, is used frequently in the Tanach.[1] This common animal is found in several very uncommon circumstances. We have Avraham and Moshe using the Chamor to carry things and to carry their family, and we have the Mashiach[2] actually riding a Chamor. In this study I would like to examine this animal and try to understand why this animal is used in such exceptional circumstances.

 

The Zohar explains that a donkey is “bad on the outside and good on the inside”,[3] very “material” but loving and loyal.[4] The Mashiach “takes a ride” on a generation comparable to a donkey (a generation steeped in materialism).

 

The first use of the Hebrew word for donkey, Chamor, is found in the following passage:

 

Bereshit (Genesis) 12:16 And he entreated Abram well for her sake: and he had sheep, and oxen, and he asses, and menservants, and maidservants, and she asses, and camels.

 

Strong’s defines chamor as:

 

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2543 chamowr, kham-ore’; or (short.) Chamor, kham-ore; from 2560; a male as (from its dun red):-(he) ass.

 

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2560 chamar, khaw-mar’; a prim. root; prop. to boil up; hence to ferment (with scum); to glow (with redness); as denom. (from 2564) to smear with pitch:-daub, foul, be red, trouble.

 

We know that the Torah’s first use of a word defines its meaning. In a sense, it creates the meaning. In this first usage we see Pharaoh taking Sarai from Avraham. At the same time, the Torah tells us that Avraham had donkeys and other animals. Why are we told this at this point? It appears the Torah is telling us that Avraham had other material possessions that were not taken by Pharaoh.

 

His Eminence Hakham Dr. Yosef ben Haggai has taught that the Chamor is a picture of the Gentiles. His Eminence has pointed out that the only unclean animal that needs to be redeemed is the Chamor. This was the beast of burden that brought the treasures out of Egypt. If we keep this understanding in mind, then many of the following ideas will come into sharp focus.

 

With this in mind, let us return to Avraham. When the pasuk tells us that he had these various animals it is telling us that he possesed more than animals, he possesed what the animals represent. The donkeys that he had represent Gentiles that belonged to him. The Maharal concurs and makes the designation more interesting. The Maharal says that the donkey is a symbol of Mitzrayim, Egypt.

 

In Hebrew, the name of something reveals its essential characteristic. The Midrash tells us that the first man, Adam, looked into the essence of every animal and named it accordingly. The donkey, for example, is characterized by carrying heavy, physical burdens:

 

Midrash Rabbah - Genesis XVII:4 R. Aha said: When the Holy One, blessed be He, came to create Adam, He took counsel with the ministering angels, saying to them, ‘Let us make man’ (I, 26). ‘ What will be the nature of this man?’ they inquired. ‘ His wisdom will exceed yours,’ He answered. What did the Lord do? He brought the animals, beasts, and birds before them and asked them, ‘What should be the name of this? ‘ but they did not know;’ of this? ‘and they did not know. Then He paraded them before Adam, and asked him, ‘What is the name of this?’ ‘An ox.’ ‘And of this?’ ‘A camel.’ ‘And of this?’ ‘An ass.’ ‘ And of this?’ ‘A horse.’ Thus it is written, AND THE MAN GAVE NAMES TO ALL CATTLE, etc. (II, 20).

 

The Ba’al Shem Tov explains[5] that Chamor, from the root Chomer “material” and chumriut “materialism”, refers to a person’s physical body.

 

The word “chomer” means physicality or material. “Chomer” can be thought of as raw material, which needs to be fashioned in to some functional object. Doing so requires imposing a certain structure, purpose and direction on this material, something which, conceptually, raw material resists. It would rather remain “undisciplined”, leaving all possibilities open. The animal “Chamor” - donkey, is most representative of this concept of “chomer”. Another dimension of “chomer” is that it can be viewed as physical “matter,” the substance which composes the entire physical world.

 

A Chamor, a donkey, represents physicality, materialism, and the very word for a completely physical entity is the word ‘chomer’. The donkey is a beast of burden that exists for little reason other than to function in this way, and thus symbolize materialism.

 

Remembering that the donkey represents Gentiles, we can understand that the role of the Gentile is to function as a beast of burden in this world. They are the ones who bear the burden of building this world of physicality. The Zohar reinforces this idea:

 

Soncino Zohar, Bereshith, Section 1, Page 238a BINDING HIS FOAL UNTO THE VINE . The vine is the Community of Israel, so called also in the verse: “Thou didst remove a vine from Egypt“ (Ps. LXXX, 9). By “his foal” is meant the Messiah,[6] who is destined to rule over all the hosts of the peoples, that is to say, the heavenly hosts who have charge of the Gentiles, and from whom they derive their strength. The Messiah will prevail over them, because this vine dominates all those lower crowns through which the Gentiles have dominion. This will be the victory above. Israel, who are “a choice vine”, will conquer and destroy other hosts below; and the Messiah will prevail over all. Hence it is written of him that he will be “poor and riding on an ass and on a young ass’s colt” (Zech. IX, 9). “Colt” and “ass” are two crowns by virtue of which the Gentiles have dominion, and they are from the left side, the side of uncleanness. It is strange that the Messiah should be called “poor”. R. Simeon explained that it is because he has nothing of his own, and he is compared to the holy moon above, which has no light save from the sun. This Messiah will have dominion and will be established in his place. Below he is “poor”, because he is of the side of the moon, and above he is poor, being a “mirror which does not radiate”, “the bread of poverty”. Yet withal he “rides upon an ass and upon a colt”, to overthrow the strength of the Gentiles; and God will keep him firm.

 

The Midrash also gives us a glimpse into the meaning behind the Chamor:

 

Midrash Rabbah - Genesis LXXV:6 AND I HAVE AN OX, AND AN ASS, etc. (XXXII, 6). R. Judah said: From one ox many oxen came forth, and from one ass many asses came forth.’ R. Nehemiah said: This is the common idiom: an ass, a camel. The Rabbis maintained: OX is an allusion to the one anointed for battle, as it says, His firstling bullock, majesty is his (Deut. XXXIII, 17)3; ASS refers to the royal Messiah, for it says of him, Lowly, and riding upon an ass (Zech. IX, 9); FLOCKS refers to Israel, as it says, And ye are My sheep, the sheep of My pasture (Ezek. XXXIV, 31); AND MEN-SERVANTS AND MAID-SERVANTS [likewise alludes to Israel, as it says], Behold, as the eyes of the servants unto the hand of their master (Ps. CXXIII, 2).THAT I MAY FIND FAVOUR [GRACE]-as it says, Be gracious unto us (ib. 3).

 

The Midrash and the Zohar are both telling us that the royal Messiah is associated with a donkey! His association, however, is from the standpoint of dominion and control. He is “riding” the donkey.

 

Chamor is not arbitrary moniker. The donkey was seen as an animal of all brawn, and no brains. If Chazal were around today, they would undoubtedly question how many Chamorim[7] there were under the hood of a Chevy truck. It represented brute physical power. Its name is directly related to the words for substance (chomer), mortar, and clay. As such, it makes a good symbol, argues Maharal, for the purely physical side of Man.

 

“The” Chamor

 

Chazal teach that Bilaam’s donkey, the one that spoke to Bilaam, was no ordinary donkey. It had an incredible pedigree. In fact, according to the Tanna in Pirkei Avot 5:6, it was one of the ten things that were created on Erev Shabbat, at twilight, on the sixth day of Creation. The meaning of this is debated by the commentators. The Rav, R' Ovadiah m'Bartenura, writes that on Erev Shabbat, the decree was issued that the donkey would speak to Bilaam.

 

Pirkei D’Rav Eliezer, chapter 31, notes that the Chamor used by Avraham is the same Chamor mentioned by Moses, and will be the same Chamor ridden by Mashiach!

 

Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer: This donkey was born to the famous donkey formed on the first Friday of creation, after sunset.[8] It is the donkey on which Moshe rode when coming to Egypt. And it is the donkey which the son of David[9] will ride upon.

 

Pirkei d'Rabbi Eliezer teaches us that the donkey which accompanied Avraham Avinu to the akeidah was none other than the son of the original donkey that was created on the Erev Shabbat of creation. This donkey later served Moshe Rabbeinu, his wife and sons, when they returned to Egypt to take part in Hashem's plan for liberating the Jews from Egypt. This is the donkey that Mashiach ben David will ride as he heralds the future Redemption. We see from here that the she-donkey that spoke with Bilaam was created on the Erev Shabbat of creation.

 

Hmmm, our chamor is the offspring of the MOST famous donkey ever created:

 

Ethics of the Fathers 5:6 Ten things were created on the eve of Shabbat at twilight. These are: the mouth of the earth (where it swallowed Korach) the mouth of the well (of Miriam, that provided water for the Israelites in the desert); the mouth of the (ballam’s) ass; the rainbow; the manna; (Moses’) staff; the shamir (that cut the stones of the Altar in the Holy Temple); and the writing, the inscription, and the tablets [of the Ten Commandments].

 

Mashiach’s donkey makes its first appears in the year 2084 from creation (1677 BCE):

 

Bereshit (Genesis) 22:3 And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him.

 

The Chamor is used for many things involving the carrying of burdens. What did Avraham use his Chamor for? Avraham used the Chamor to carry the bundles of wood and the knife. In other words, the Chamor didn’t carry Avraham or Yitzchak. It carried only the items which Avraham was planning to use for the Akeida.

 

Avraham’s journey was only the first time in history that this type of service was performed. That’s why so very little was put on top of the Chamor, only the items he needed for the Akeida.

 

What was Avraham’s Chamor trip for? Avraham was going to redeem his son, and by redeeming his son he would be redeeming all of the Children of Israel, because, at that time, all of the Children of Israel were in the loins of Yitzchak. This was a redemption journey using the Chamor for transportation.

 

In Shemot, we see a pasuk that describes how Moshe used THE Chamor to carry his wife and children to their destination:

 

Shemot (Exodus) 4:20 And Moses took his wife and his sons, and set them upon the ass, and he returned to the land of Egypt: and Moses took the rod of God in his hand.

 

Rashi says the following about this ass (donkey):

 

mounted them upon the donkey - The designated donkey. That is the donkey that Abraham saddled for the binding of Isaac, and that is the one upon whom the King Messiah is destined to appear, as it is said: “humble, and riding a donkey”.[10]

 

Rabbi Yechiel Michel of Zlotchov in Be’er Mayim Chayim said:

 

Rashi is troubled why the verse says that he “mounted them upon the donkey” rather than merely “a donkey”. Therefore, he concluded that the Torah must be hinting that it is a famous donkey.

 

Moshe placed his wife and children atop the Chamor. People who are close to you are much more important than tools. This shows that in the many years that had passed since Avraham, a lot had been accomplished in the task of using physicality to serve HaShem. By then, it was people who were on the Chamor, not items. Still, we were talking about Moshe’s family, not Moshe himself.

 

What was Moshe’s Chamor trip for? Moshe was going to redeem all of the Children of Israel. This was a redemption journey using the Chamor for transportation.

 

In describing the advent of Mashiach, the Prophet states,

 

Zechariah 9:9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he [is] just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.

 

This is the Chamor who carries not the belongings or the wife and children, but the person himself, this is the Chamor of Mashiach![11]

 

When describing the exile, our sages tell us that Mashiach himself will ride atop the Chamor. Then the physicality of our world will be fully used for spirituality.

 

Mashiach will ride the same Chamor that was used by Avraham and by Moshe. The Mashiach will be one who has conquered the material aspects of Himself, and he will ride them, and it will be a Chamor, because it will provide him with the material as a means to His ends.

 

What was Mashiach’s Chamor trip for? Mashiach was going to redeem the Gentiles. This was a redemption journey using the Chamor for transportation. Matityahu tells us the Midrashic perspective of this Chamor and the carrying of Mashiach:

 

Matityahu (Matthew) 21:1-9 And when they drew nigh unto Jerusalem, and were come to Bethphage, unto the mount of Olives, then sent Yeshua two disciples, Saying unto them, Go into the village over against you, and straightway ye shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her: loose [them], and bring [them] unto me. And if any [man] say ought unto you, ye shall say, The Lord hath need of them; and straightway he will send them. All this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, Tell ye the daughter of Zion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass. And the disciples went, and did as Yeshua commanded them, And brought the ass, and the colt, and put on them their clothes, and they set [him] thereon. And a very great multitude spread their garments in the way; others cut down branches from the trees, and strawed [them] in the way. And the multitudes that went before, and that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna to the son of David: Blessed [is] he that cometh in the name of HaShem; Hosanna in the highest.

 

Yochanan tells us the Sod level perspective of this Chamor and the carrying of Mashiach:

 

Yochanan (John) 12:12-16 On the next day much people that were come to the feast, when they heard that Yeshua was coming to Jerusalem, Took branches of palm trees, and went forth to meet him, and cried, Hosanna: Blessed [is] the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord. And Yeshua, when he had found a young ass, sat thereon; as it is written, Fear not, daughter of Sion: behold, thy King cometh, sitting on an ass’s colt. These things understood not his disciples at the first: but when Yeshua was glorified, then remembered they that these things were written of him, and [that] they had done these things unto him.

 

Apparently, this donkey alludes to a higher spiritual dimension than the simple animal itself. The purpose of using and riding a donkey is to enable the person and his belongings to reach such a place which, due to its height or distance, would be unreachable without the donkey.

 

The same is true in the spiritual act of “riding on a donkey.” Chamor is linked with chomer, materialism. The purpose of a Jew, and every human being, is to refine the coarseness of this materialistic world, one’s body, household, etc. through the study of Torah and observance of mitzvot. In so doing one is elevated to such a level that the soul, in and by itself, is unable to attain. Only when the soul enters the corporeal, physical body (at birth) does it have the challenge - and HaShem given ability to refine the body and all materialistic aspects through a life devoted to HaShem and His Torah.

 

Why do our Sages go to such great lengths to teach us that Avraham, Moshe, and Mashiach all rode the same Chamor? What difference does it make?

 

Sanhedrin 98a Rebi Alexandri said: Rebi Yehoshua ben Levi raised the following contradiction: It says, “Behold like the clouds of Heaven came one like the son of man” (Daniel 7:13). It is also written, “Lowly and riding upon a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9). If they merit it, he will come with the clouds of Heaven, but if they do not merit it, he will come upon a donkey.

 

The great and holy scholar, Rabbi Chiam Midini, in his work Sdei Chemed,[12] connects this Talmudic statement referring to the prophecy of Daniel: “If the generation is fortunate the Mashiach will come from the dead, i.e. on “clouds of heaven,” and then everyone will accept him with no reservations. But if not he will come from the living, i.e. riding on a Chamor.

 

And so agrees the Holy Hakham Yosef Chaim[13] in his commentary on Sanhedren 98, in his book “Ben Yehoyada”, that the Mashiach can come from the dead. (He also explains the topic there of Mashiach ben Yosef and how he can also be Mashiach.)

 

The Process

 

Mashiach’s donkey represents the essence of the Messianic process: a process that began before creation and which constitutes the very soul of history. In the beginning, when HaShem created the heavens and the earth, when the world was still void, unformed, and shrouded in darkness, the spirit of Elohim hovered above the emerging existence. Says the Midrash:

 

Midrash Rabbah - Genesis II:4 R. Simeon b. Lakish applied the passage to the [foreign] Powers. NOW THE EARTH WAS TOHU (E.V. ‘UNFORMED’) symbolises Babylonia: I beheld the earth, and, lo, it was tohu-E.V. ‘waste’ (Jer. IV, 23); AND BOHU (E.V. ‘VOID’) symbolises Media: They hastened (wa-yabhillu) to bring Haman (Est. VI, 14). AND DARKNESS symbolises Greece, which darkened the eyes of Israel with its decrees, ordering Israel, ‘Write on the horn of an ox that ye have no portion in the God of Israel.’ UPON THE FACE OF THE DEEP-this wicked State:just as the great deep cannot be plumbed, so one cannot plumb [the depths of iniquity of] this wicked State. AND THE SPIRIT OF GOD HOVERED: this alludes to the spirit of Messiah, as you read, And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him (Isa. XI, 2). In the merit of what will [this spirit] eventually come? [For the sake of that which] HOVERED OVER THE FACE OF THE WATERS, i.e. in the merit of repentance which is likened to water, as it is written, Pour out thy heart like water (Lam. II, 19). R. Haggai said in the name of R. Pedath: A covenant was made with water that even in the hot season a breeze stirs over it.

 

“‘The spirit of Elohim hovered’, this is the spirit of Mashiach”. For Mashiach represents the divine spirit of creation, the vision of the perfected world that is Elohim’s purpose in creating it and populating it with willful, thinking and achieving beings.

 

Mashiach’s donkey has a long, prestigious history. Time and again it makes its appearance through the generations, surfacing at key junctures of the messianic redemptive process. Each time we see it fulfilling the same function, but in a slightly different manner; reflecting the changes in our world.

 

When Yaaqov approached the land he sent messengers to tell Esav, “I have oxen and mules” or, literally, “an ox and a mule.” These animals represent the two Meshichim: Mashiach ben Yosef and Mashiach ben David. Each one has a different mission. Yosef, the ox, can overturn the power of negativity that is Esav. The other Mashiach, ben David, rides a Chamor, and stands for the power to raise up the seductions of Yishmael who is called Am Chamor, Donkey Nation. Chamor is the symbol of “chumriut,” physicality and Yishmael has to do with taking the light of spirituality and sinking it into worldly lust, stealing from the longing for HaShem by directing it into worldly appetites where it doesn’t belong. Thus the midrash says that when HaShem offered the Torah to Yishmael he refused it because of the prohibition of stealing.

 

According to the Talmud, the animal that symbolizes Yishmael and his descendants is the ‘Chamor’ - the donkey:

 

Yevamot 62a Rab said: All agree that a slave has no legally recognized relatives, since it is written, Abide ye here with the ass[14], people who are like the ass.

 

However, it is not the Talmud’s way to take pot shots at nations of the world, especially by playing on a word in the Torah. There is a message to the Jewish people in this comparison of Yishmael to the Chamor, one that takes on added importance at this late and troubling stage of world history, for, if Mashiach is coming, he seems to be ‘arriving’ on a ‘Chamor.’

 

The King

 

Now it is not the accepted thing for a King or Queen to ride on a donkey. Majesty rides on a horse as it is written:

 

Habakkuk 3:8 “You rode on Your horses, your chariots of salvation“.

 

One does not degrade a Queen by putting her on a donkey and certainly not the King himself. It is more proper for the king’s servant to ride a donkey and this is the reason it is written about the Mashiach that he is:

 

Zechariah 9:9 He is just and victorious; humble and riding on a donkey

 

The servant is not called King until he rides on his horse that is called the Assembly of Israel. When the King is outside his residence, and not united with his Queen, he is not in his full majesty. In the future, when He returns to His residence, then

 

Zechariah 14:9 The Lord shall be King over all the earth; on that day the Lord will be one, and his name one.

 

All Israel are called the sons of the King. Their relationship is like father and son, but not like the sons of the King until they return to the land of Israel. When they return to the land of Israel the full majesty of their relationship will be revealed.

 

Chamor in Torah:

 

We are getting ahead of ourselves a bit, so lets return back to the beginnings:

 

Bereshit (Genesis) 22:5 And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you.

 

This scene seems common on the surface, but the Midrash reveals that which is not seen:

 

Midrash Rabbah - Genesis LVI:2 He then said to him [Isaac]: ‘Isaac, my son, seest thou what I see?’ ‘Yes,’ he replied. Said he to his two servants: ‘ See ye what I see?’ ‘No,’ they answered. Since ye do not see it, ABIDE YE HERE WITH THE ASS,’ (XXII, 5), he bade them, for ye are like the ass, whence it follows that slaves are like an ass The Rabbis proved [it from this verse spoken at] the Revelation: Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work... thou, nor thy daughter, nor thy man-servant, nor thy maid-servant, nor thy cattle (Ex. XX, 10). R. Isaac said: This place shall one day be alienated from its Owner for ever? [No], for it is stated, This is My resting-place for ever; here will I dwell for I have desired it; (Ps. CXXXII, 14)-when he comes of whom it is written, Lowly, and riding upon an ass (Zech. I, 9).

 

Our Sages tell us that when Avraham approached Har HaMoriah, mount Moriah, he saw an aura of holiness suspended in a cloud over the mountain. He turned to his beloved son and asked him, “what do you see?” Yitzchak replied that he, too, saw a holy cloud hovering over the mountain.” Then Avraham turned to his son Yishmael and his servant Eliezer and asked them if they too saw a cloud. They did not. And so Avraham responded, “Remain here with the Chamor”.

 

Bereshit (Genesis) 24:35 And HaShem hath blessed my master greatly; and he is become great: and he hath given him flocks, and herds, and silver, and gold, and menservants, and maidservants, and camels, and asses.

 

Bereshit (Genesis) 30:43 And the man increased exceedingly, and had much cattle, and maidservants, and menservants, and camels, and asses.

 

Bereshit (Genesis) 32:5 And I have oxen, and asses, flocks, and menservants, and women servants: and I have sent to tell my lord, that I may find grace in thy sight.

 

In the above pasuk, Jacob recounts his years in Laban’s household. Among other things he states, “I have ox(en) and donkey(s)” (the Hebrew has both in the singular). According to the Midrash, this is an allusion to the Chamor of Mashiach, whom the Torah describes as “humble and riding upon a Chamor”:

 

Midrash Rabbah - Genesis LXXV:6 AND I HAVE AN OX, AND AN ASS, etc. (XXXII, 6). R. Judah said: From one ox many oxen came forth, and from one ass many asses came forth.’ R. Nehemiah said: This is the common idiom: an ass, a camel. The Rabbis maintained: OX is an allusion to the one anointed for battle, as it says, His firstling bullock, majesty is his (Deut. XXXIII, 17); ASS (Chamor) refers to the royal Messiah, for it says of him, Lowly, and riding upon an ass (Zech. IX, 9); FLOCKS refers to Israel, as it says, And ye are My sheep, the sheep of My pasture (Ezek. XXXIV, 31); AND MEN-SERVANTS AND MAID-SERVANTS [likewise alludes to Israel, as it says], Behold, as the eyes of the servants unto the hand of their master (Ps. CXXIII, 2). THAT I MAY FIND FAVOUR [GRACE]-as it says, Be gracious unto us (ib. 3).

 

A question is asked: Why did Jacob choose to allude to the final redemption in precisely this way?

 

Abraham and his servants walked by foot, employing the donkey only to carry their belongings: the pieces of wood and the knife. Neither did Moses ride upon the donkey himself, but only mounted his wife and son on the animal’s back. Mashiach,[15] by contrast, will actually ride the donkey.

 

In the times of Abraham, before the Torah was given at Mt. Sinai, the physical world was not yet sanctified. When the Patriarchs performed mitzvot with physical objects, the physical objects remained unchanged. Materiality did not yet have the power to spiritually elevate. Abraham thus utilized the donkey only for carrying, as the holiness in the objects was limited to the actual time he used them for sanctified purposes.

 

In Moses’ time, the ability to transform materiality into spirituality (through the performance of mitzvot) was granted. The lowest levels of human existence could thus be elevated. This partial conquest of the physical world is symbolized by Moses’ mounting his wife and son upon the donkey.

 

It is only in the era of Mashiach that the superiority of the body over the soul will be fully revealed. At that time, even the highest levels of the soul will be elevated through the refinement of physicality. For this reason, Mashiach will actually ride upon the donkey.

 

Jacob’s declaration thus alludes to his successful refinement of the physical plane of reality during his sojourn with Laban. Indeed, it indicated his readiness for the next step up, the elevation of the soul that follows such refinement.

 

Bereshit (Genesis) 34:28 They took their sheep, and their oxen, and their asses, and that which [was] in the city, and that which [was] in the field,

 

Bereshit (Genesis) 36:24 And these [are] the children of Zibeon; both Ajah, and Anah: this [was that] Anah that found the mules in the wilderness, as he fed the asses of Zibeon his father.

 

Bereshit (Genesis) 42:26 And they laded their asses with the corn, and departed thence.

 

Bereshit (Genesis) 42:27 And as one of them opened his sack to give his ass provender in the inn, he espied his money; for, behold, it [was] in his sack’s mouth.

 

Bereshit (Genesis) 43:18 And the men were afraid, because they were brought into Joseph’s house; and they said, Because of the money that was returned in our sacks at the first time are we brought in; that he may seek occasion against us, and fall upon us, and take us for bondmen, and our asses.

 

Bereshit (Genesis) 43:24 And the man brought the men into Joseph’s house, and gave [them] water, and they washed their feet; and he gave their asses provender.

 

Bereshit (Genesis) 44:3 As soon as the morning was light, the men were sent away, they and their asses.

 

Bereshit (Genesis) 44:13 Then they rent their clothes, and laded every man his ass, and returned to the city.

 

Bereshit (Genesis) 45:23 And to his father he sent after this [manner]; ten asses laden with the good things of Egypt, and ten she asses laden with corn and bread and meat for his father by the way.

 

Bereshit (Genesis) 47:17 And they brought their cattle unto Joseph: and Joseph gave them bread [in exchange] for horses, and for the flocks, and for the cattle of the herds, and for the asses: and he fed them with bread for all their cattle for that year.

 

Bereshit (Genesis) 49:14 Issachar [is] a strong ass couching down between two burdens:

 

Midrash Rabbah - Genesis XCVII Let us now commence with ISSACHAR IS A LARGE BONED ASS (XLIX, 14). As an ass breaks the bone of the skeleton, so does the tribe of Issachar break Israel in halachah, for it says, And of the children of Issachar, men that had understanding of the times... the heads of them were two hundred (I Chron. XII, 33): this means that his tribe produced two hundred Sanhedrin.

 

Midrash Rabbah - Genesis LXXV:12 Another interpretation of AND I HAVE AN OX, AND AN ASS. OX alludes to Joseph, as it says, His firstling bullock, majesty is his’ (Deut. XXXIII, 17); Ass, to Issachar, for it is written, Issachar is a large-boned ass (Gen. XLIX, 14). Now the grandson of Joseph is destined to destroy Amalek, as it says, And Joshua discomfited Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword (Ex. XVII, 13); while the sons [descendants] of Issachar know what the Holy One, blessed be He, does in His world, as it says, And of the children of Issachar, men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do (I Chron. XII, 33). AND FLOCKS refers to Israel, as it says, ‘ And ye are My sheep, and the sheep of My pasture ‘ (Ezek. XXXIV, 31); AND A MAN-SERVANT alludes to David: I am Thy servant, the son of thy handmaid (Ps. CXVI, 16). AND A MAID-SERVANT, to Abigail, as it says, Behold, thy handmaid is a servant (I Sam. XXV, 41).

 

Reb Chaim of Volozhin z’tl cites the Zohar, which explains that the reason Yaakov identifies the tribe of Yissachar as the Chamor is to indicate and allow us to understand that although the make-up of Yissachar is material (chomer), the Torah has the ability to spiritualize that physicality and elevate it to a new level. According to this understanding, the verse, “He saw tranquility that it was good, and the land that it was pleasant, yet he bent his shoulder to bear the burden and he became an indentured laborer,” means that despite the fact that Yissachar saw that he had tremendous bounty and material success, he nevertheless chose to remain unaffected by it. Rather, he “bent his shoulder...” to assume the yoke of Torah. Yisachar took the “Chamor / chomer” and spiritualized it. Thus we can understand why Meam Loez, in the commentary on Yehoshua, that the Chamor represents the Torah scholar.

 

Shemot (Exodus) 9:3 Behold, the hand of HaShem is upon thy cattle which [is] in the field, upon the horses, upon the asses, upon the camels, upon the oxen, and upon the sheep: [there shall be] a very grievous murrain.

 

Shemot (Exodus) 13:13 And every firstling of an ass thou shalt redeem with a lamb; and if thou wilt not redeem it, then thou shalt break his neck: and all the firstborn of man among thy children shalt thou redeem.

 

Shemot (Exodus) 20:17 Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that [is] thy neighbor’s.

 

Shemot (Exodus) 21:33 And if a man shall open a pit, or if a man shall dig a pit, and not cover it, and an ox or an ass fall therein;

 

Shemot (Exodus) 22:4 If the theft be certainly found in his hand alive, whether it be ox, or ass, or sheep; he shall restore double.

 

Shemot (Exodus) 22:9 For all manner of trespass, [whether it be] for ox, for ass, for sheep, for raiment, [or] for any manner of lost thing, which [another] challengeth to be his, the cause of both parties shall come before the judges; [and] whom the judges shall condemn, he shall pay double unto his neighbour.

 

Shemot (Exodus) 22:10 If a man deliver unto his neighbour an ass, or an ox, or a sheep, or any beast, to keep; and it die, or be hurt, or driven away, no man seeing [it]:

 

Shemot (Exodus) 23:4 If thou meet thine enemy’s ox or his ass going astray, thou shalt surely bring it back to him again.

 

Shemot (Exodus) 23:5 If thou see the ass of him that hates thee lying under his burden, and wouldest forbear to help him, thou shalt surely help with him.

 

The Baal Shem Tov applied this instruction to the body and the material self (Chamor, “donkey”, also means “materiality”). Initially, the Torah is saying that you may see your body as your enemy, resisting your soul’s objectives, collapsing under the “burden” of the mitzvot. You may therefore be inclined to fight the body by denying its needs and mortifying it. Says the Torah: You must aid your soul’s “enemy”. Purify the body, refine it, do not break it.

 

Shemot (Exodus) 23:12 Six days thou shalt do thy work, and on the seventh day thou shalt rest: that thine ox and thine ass may rest, and the son of thy handmaid, and the stranger, may be refreshed.

 

Shemot (Exodus) 34:20 But the firstling of an ass thou shalt redeem with a lamb: and if thou redeem [him] not, then shalt thou break his neck. All the firstborn of thy sons thou shalt redeem. And none shall appear before me empty.

 

Bamidbar (Numbers) 16:15 And Moses was very wroth, and said unto HaShem, Respect not thou their offering: I have not taken one ass from them, neither have I hurt one of them.

 

Since the Chamor represents physicality, we can understand why Moshe said, “I didn’t take a Chamor from them”. Moshe was being accused of all sorts of things, so he says to HaShem, what basis do they have to accuse me of these things? Not one physical, material anything did I ever take from them! Moshe doesn’t mean that he never stole a donkey, he means he never took a physical, material object. His language could not have been more exact.

 

Bamidbar (Numbers) 31:28 And levy a tribute unto HaShem of the men of war which went out to battle: one soul of five hundred, [both] of the persons, and of the beeves, and of the asses, and of the sheep:

 

Bamidbar (Numbers) 31:30 And of the children of Israel’s half, thou shalt take one portion of fifty, of the persons, of the beeves, of the asses, and of the flocks, of all manner of beasts, and give them unto the Levites, which keep the charge of the tabernacle of HaShem.

 

Bamidbar (Numbers) 31:34 And threescore and one thousand asses,

 

Bamidbar (Numbers) 31:39 And the asses [were] thirty thousand and five hundred; of which HaShem’s tribute [was] threescore and one.

 

Bamidbar (Numbers) 31:45 And thirty thousand asses and five hundred,

 

Devarim (Deuteronomy) 5:14 But the seventh day [is] the sabbath of HaShem thy God: [in it] thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thine ox, nor thine ass, nor any of thy cattle, nor thy stranger that [is] within thy gates; that thy manservant and thy maidservant may rest as well as thou.

 

Devarim (Deuteronomy) 5:21 Neither shalt thou desire thy neighbour’s wife, neither shalt thou covet thy neighbour’s house, his field, or his manservant, or his maidservant, his ox, or his ass, or any [thing] that [is] thy neighbour’s.

 

Devarim (Deuteronomy) 22:3 In like manner shalt thou do with his ass; and so shalt thou do with his raiment; and with all lost thing of thy brother’s, which he hath lost, and thou hast found, shalt thou do likewise: thou mayest not hide thyself.

 

Devarim (Deuteronomy) 22:4 Thou shalt not see thy brother’s ass or his ox fall down by the way, and hide thyself from them: thou shalt surely help him to lift [them] up again.

 

Devarim (Deuteronomy) 22:10 Thou shalt not plow with an ox and an ass together.

 

Devarim (Deuteronomy) 28:31 Thine ox [shall be] slain before thine eyes, and thou shalt not eat thereof: thine ass [shall be] violently taken away from before thy face, and shall not be restored to thee: thy sheep [shall be] given unto thine enemies, and thou shalt have none to rescue [them].

 

* * *

 

The Midrash cites a pasuk that refers to Yaakov as the “sheep” (seh) and the Jews are the “sheep among the wolves”. There is a pasuk in Yehezechel, which identifies the Egyptians as donkeys (Chamorim):

 

Yehezechel (Ezekiel) 23:19-21 Yet she multiplied her whoredoms, in calling to remembrance the days of her youth, wherein she had played the harlot in the land of Egypt. For she doted upon their paramours, their flesh [is as] the flesh of asses, and whose issue [is like] the issue of horses. Thus thou calledst to remembrance the lewdness of thy youth, in bruising thy teats by the Egyptians for the paps of thy youth.

 

“Their flesh is the flesh of asses (Chamorim).” The Maharal of Prague explains that the word Chamor comes from chomeir that connotes materialism. The Egyptians had the lowest degree of spirituality of any nation in the world. Because of this, the Egyptians had sunk to lowest depths of depravity such as incest, adultery, witchcraft, and idol worship.

 

* * *

 

Rashi says that “The” Chamor that Moshe used to bring his family to Egypt was the same one that Avraham took to the Akeida and the one that the Mashiach will ride upon. Why not a regular Chamor? Why must we have a miraculous Chamor? We have a miraculous Chamor to tell us that these significant events were not haphazard, but rather, this Chamor was specifically prepared as a part of HaShem’s master plan for the redemption of His world:

 

Matityahu (Matthew) 21:1-7 And when they drew nigh unto Jerusalem, and were come to Bethphage, unto the mount of Olives, then sent Yeshua two disciples, Saying unto them, Go into the village over against you, and straightway ye shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her: loose [them], and bring [them] unto me. And if any [man] say ought unto you, ye shall say, The Lord hath need of them; and straightway he will send them. All this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, Tell ye the daughter of Zion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass. And the disciples went, and did as Yeshua commanded them, And brought the ass, and the colt, and put on them their clothes, and they set [him] thereon.

 

Thus we see Mashiach ben Joseph riding the chamor as He prepares for His ultimate redemptive act. Thus we can see that when Avraham went to the Akeida for the redemption of the Jewish people, he too use The chamor. When Moshe went to redeem the peoples from Egypt, he went riding The chamor.

 

Shechem ben Chamor

 

Bereshit (Genesis) 34:13-15Jacob’s sons answered Shechem and Chamor, his father, cleverly, and they spoke because he had defiled Dina their sister. And they said to them, “we cannot do this thing, to give our sister to a man who remains uncircumcised, for it is a disgrace for us. Only on this [condition] can we agree with you, if you will be like us, to circumcise every male.”

 

After Shechem’s assault upon and kidnapping of Dina, the brothers set out to rescue her. A straightforward interpretation of these verses is that the brothers, recognizing that they were not strong enough to rescue her through military might, tricked Chamor and his son into weakening themselves. They never intended to permit the attackers to marry their sister, but the deception was justified in order to save her (and as we see, Shimon and Levi felt that the people of Shechem were subject to the death penalty for participating in the kidnapping).

 

The Ba’al Akeida, however, takes a different approach. He says that the offer was genuine, but Shechem and Chamor didn’t fully understand what they were being asked to do. The brothers said that they would consent, “if you will be like us,” meaning truly like they were. Not only on the outside, but on the inside. The people of Shechem would need to become like the children of Yaakov, joining the Jewish people. The brothers were not just asking them to perform the physical act of circumcision, but that they join the covenant of circumcision, the covenant HaShem made with Abraham. If they did so, then to have Shechem marry their sister would be no disgrace at all.

 

That was the fundamental point, the key issue. But Shechem and Chamor didn’t get it. They thought that if the outer trappings were OK, that’s all that was needed.

 

* * *

 

Luqas (Luke) 14:3-6 And Yeshua answering spake unto the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath day? And they held their peace. And he took [him], and healed him, and let him go; And answered them, saying, Which of you shall have an ass or an ox fallen into a pit, and will not straightway pull him out on the sabbath day? And they could not answer him again to these things.

 

* * *

 

This study was written by

Rabbi Dr. Hillel ben David

(Greg Killian).

Comments may be submitted to:

 

Rabbi Dr. Greg Killian

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Olympia, WA 98501

 

Internet address:  gkilli@aol.com

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[1] Tanakh is a Hebrew acronym formed from the initial Hebrew letters of the Masoretic Text’s three traditional subdivisions: The Torah (“Teaching”, also known as the Five Books of Moses), Neviim (Prophets) and Ketuvim (Writings)—hence TaNaKh.

[2] I am using Mashiach without further qualification, to apply to Mashiach ben Joseph, which is not the normal Jewish way. The normal Jewish way is to that ‘mashiach’ without qualification always applies to Mashiach ben David only. See Rambam’s Hilchot Melachim.

[3] Tikkunei Zohar 60

[4] Igrot Re’iya no. 555

[5] HaYom Yom, Shvat 28; Keser Shem Tov (Kehot) addendum, sec. 16.

[6] The normal Jewish way is that ‘Mashiach - Messiah’, without qualification, always applies to Mashiach ben David only. See Rambam’s Hilchot Melachim.

[7] Plural of chamor – lit. donkeys.

[8] Avot 5:6

[9] Mashiach

[10] Zech. 9:9).-[from Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer, ch. 31]

[11] This time, Mashiach applies to both Mashiach ben David and Masiach ben Joseph.

[12] Peyas HaSadeh, Maareches “Alef”, os Eyin

[13] The Ben Ish Chai

[14] Bereshit 22:5.

[15] Mashiach here applies to both Mashiach ben Joseph and Mashiach ben David.