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    The talking donkey – Balak

    Bilam’s donkey is famous because it talks.

    There are people who think so little of their rabbi that when a sermon begins he speaks such nonsense that some congregants mutter, “There goes the talking donkey again”.

    Others think that this Biblical episode is the origin of the idea of Doctor Doolittle who can converse with the animals and birds.

    Actually the Biblical donkey is an example of the close relationship between man and animal. Martin Buber points out that you can have such a feeling for your animal (often it’s a dog or a horse) that there is an I-Thou relationship and you enter into each other’s very being.

    Isaiah knew this kind of relationship when he said in Chapter 1, the Haftarah of Shabbat Chazon, “the ox knows its master”.

    It’s not that the animal necessarily speaks intelligible words but there is a reciprocal instinct.

    The episode of the talking donkey is understood by the Meshech Chochmah as conveying a lesson: God says, “If I can make an animal speak, surely I can give speech to a human being”.

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