Metaphors in the Torah: The Donkey and the Ox

Samuel Blesses Saul by Gustav Dor'eSamuel Blesses Saul by Gustav Dor'e
In this week's Torah portion there is a very interesting commandment about redeeming the first born and the donkey. Okay, the first born I can understand, but: Why the donkey? Also, when we get to the Ten Commandments, we shall see that the tenth commandment speaks of coveting the wife of a neighbor, but it also speaks of coveting the neighbor's donkey.


In a previous article I discussed Joseph growing wheat and the connection

between bread and the Torah. My conclusion was that a wheat field is a metaphor for a religious school and I noted that even today in universities people speak of: "fields of study".


The second issue is: Of all the animals, why did the Israelites make a golden calf? (i.e. why not a golden horse or eagle?)


The reason I ask this is because there is another commandment prohibiting plowing a field with an ox and a donkey yoked together.


One part of the answer can be found in the story of Samson's riddle. After his wife gives away the answer, Samson says that the wedding guests would not have gotten the information if they had not been plowing with his heifer. So, if we accept that a field is indeed a metaphor for a school, then a heifer is something which provides power or strength to the educational process. All this really isn't too difficult to accept because even today, when reading or studying a difficult subject, we say we are plowing thru the material. Hence, in my opinion, the heifer or the ox represent intellectual strength.


Throughout the Old Testament there are many references to donkeys, but one of the most important ones is that future King Saul was searching for: his "father's donkeys" when he met the prophet Samuel. A second very important image is that King Solomon riding on the back of a donkey after he is anointed. Since being anointed with olive oil is the definition of the term messiah, we can see why it is said

the future messiah will enter Jerusalem riding on the back of a donkey.
Naturally, the most famous donkey is Balaam's . Because it talks it is  a source of knowledge. Because it carries a prophet on its back, it is the base of support for the prophet's message.
Okay fine, but what does the donkey represent? The messiah is an enlightened being, because in those times olive oil  was used to provide light in lamps. Also, I would just like to point out that in the 23rd psalm the Hebrew version is quite different than the beautiful King James Version. In short: the Hebrew version says that the olive oil will fertilize the head of David. So: the field is a source of education and the head is a source of thinking and both need to be fertilized by God's light.

Another aspect to think about is that not only does the messiah ride on the back of the donkey, but King David always received bread on the backs of donkeys and the Syrian general carried a little bit of the land of Israel back home with him on the backs of donkeys (so again: we noted in other articles that "the torah is the bread of life" and that a field is a metaphor for a school).


My conclusion is that a donkey represents the base of support for all Jewish prophecies and this base of support is the word of God.


Thus in the tenth commandment when it says do not covet another man's donkey, what it really is saying is that we must not covet or listen to the prophets or religious leaders of other religions.


We have discussed in a different article the connection between the first born son, the first fruits of the field and God's word in relation to the Holy Day of Shavout. So, if a first born son is a metaphor for God's word and a donkey is a metaphor for a prophet of God, then we can begin to appreciate why both must be redeemed ( but I will discuss redemption in more depth in a future article).




In relation to oxen, the Hebrew word for meat also means to preach and is also the word for gospels. So, the Gospel of Mark, for example, in Hebrew can actually be read as: the Meats of Mark.


Thus, it is my feeling that oxen represent religious scholars who sit in religious schools and develop ideas about God by plowing thru religious texts. Hence Joseph, when he arrives in Egypt, is part of a spice caravan and Potiphar, the Egyptian who buys him, in Hebrew is described as: "a chef" (not as: "chief of the guards" which is the usual English translation). Accordingly, Potiphar was a religious preacher who served "meat" to Pharaoh (i.e. sermons). Recognizing that Joseph had a deep religious understanding, he bought him as a slave in order to help "spice up" his talks. Thus, Joseph helped Potiphar to make his difficult to understand religious ideas "easier to digest" (these, by the way, are all common metaphors still used in the 21st century).


Okay then, so what does the commandment about not yoking together a donkey and an ox really mean? The field is a religious school. There are religious scholars, represented by the oxen and there are religious prophets represented by the donkeys. Apparently what is being said is that it is not good to mix both doctrines together. At the same time, neither one is forbidden. So, in Judaism there is indeed a place for religious scholarship, but there is also a place for the direct revelations from God.  The prohibition then is for religious scholars to be used to explain the word of God to the people.


The word of God stands by itself, un altered and un changed. Religious scholars originally were called judges. Their function is to deal with problems arising from man's daily interactions with his fellow men. It is not the function of a religious   scholar to interpret God's word and it is certainly not his function to invent new laws or to replace God's words by substituting his own interpretations for the law.