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Easily identified by the loud and repetitive “hee-haw, hee-haw” sounds it makes ( known as braying ), as well as its very long ears, the donkey is a domesticated member of the horse family.

The donkey’s bray is a means of communication with both other donkeys and its owner. The bray of the donkey is quite loud and long. Indeed, the bray can be heard for over two miles and usually lasts for twenty seconds.

There are many common misconceptions about the donkey. One is its reputation for being stubborn. This false accusation is most likely due to the donkey’s highly developed sense of
self-preservation. It is difficult to force or intimidate a donkey into doing something it perceives as contrary to its own best interest or safety, and it will refuse to move if it senses danger or if it is overburdened. It is this uncanny ability to assess situations before moving that gives the donkey the inaccurate reputation of being stubborn.

Another common misconception is that the donkey is simply a dumb beast of burden. However, this is also untrue. The donkey is a highly intelligent creature, with an incredible memory.
It is also extremely loyal to its owner (once it feels the owner
is trustworthy).

The donkey has been used as a working animal for thousands of years, mainly for carrying heavy loads and transporting goods and merchandise over long distances. Even today, the majority of donkeys are still used for the same burdening tasks.

It is estimated that there are over forty-four million donkeys throughout the world, although many zoologists believe that the actual amount is much higher because many donkeys are unaccounted for, especially in the underdeveloped countries where they are mainly used.

Donkeys vary greatly in size and weight, depending on the breed. For example some donkeys can weigh as little as
180 pounds, while some can exceed 1,000 pounds! Their height, too, has a range, from anywhere between two and a half feet high to five feet high.

Donkeys can live up to fifty years, if they are cared for properly. In poorer countries, however, where the donkey is underfed and overworked, it may only live up to fifteen years of age.

The Donkey to the Rescue

Even thousands of yearsago, the donkey was recognized as an ideal guard animal, due to its strong sense of hearing and its protective nature. Farmers and shepherds worldwide used donkeys as part of the shepherding process, because of their ability to detect predators and their willingness to protect the herd and fight back if necessary.

When a donkey detects danger or an unwelcome guest (such as a wolf), it will first emit a loud braying call. This serves as a warning not only to the intruder but to anyone else around. If that does not scare the predator away, the donkey will defend itself and the herd by fighting off the intruder using a series of stomps with its front hoofs and powerful kicks with its hind legs.

Torah Talk

The donkey is involved in a most unusual episode in the Torah. 

In Parshat Balak(Bamidbar22:21-34), Bilam went with the officers of Moav to curse the Jewish people, even though he knew this was not the will of Hashem. Hashem was angry that Bilam went. In order to warn Bilam, Hashem placed an angel in his path, which blocked the donkey Bilam was riding on. The donkey saw the angel, though Bilam did not. Bilam whipped the donkey; and then, miraculously, the donkey began to speak, chastising Bilam for whipping him.

There is a rule of thumb: Hashem does not perform miracles for no reason. When He makes a miracle, it is because there is a necessity for it. Why was it necessary to have this miraculous event of a donkey speaking to a human being?

The Kli Yakar explains that this was a pointed message to Bilam: “Bilam, don’t be so proud of yourself! Don’t let the fact that you have been granted prophecy go to your head. I can even make a donkey speak! In effect, you are just a talking donkey.”

According to the Seforno, however, the talking donkey was not meant as a put-down for Bilam at all. On the contrary, it demonstrated Hashem’s unbelievable concern for even a person like Bilam. Hashem made this dramatic miracle in order to get Bilam’s attention and arouse himto repent by recalling that all speech comes only from Him.

Bilam was a rasha, and yet Hashem performed a miracle just to give him the chance to do teshuva. We see from here the incredible love Hashem has for a person, even for one as lowly as Bilam.

A Show of Gratitude

The following commandment is written in the Torah: And every firstling of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb… (Shemot13:13)

The donkey is a non-kosher animal and therefore cannot be used as a korban. Yet it is only the donkey, and no other non-kosher animal, that is mentioned in this commandment. Why is that? It is because the donkey assisted the Jewish people when they left Egypt. For there was not a single Jew who, upon leaving Egypt, did not take with him several donkeys laden with silver and gold. (Rashi based on the Mechilta and Bechorot5b)

This commandment teaches us the significance of gratitude. Jewish ethics demand that we should continually show our appreciation for kindnesses we receive. The donkey does not possess any of the signs of kashruth(it does not chew its cud or have split hoofs), yet it is considered holy and must be redeemed with a lamb since it helped the Jewish people by carrying their burdens when they left Egypt.