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Are You Saddling a Jack or a Jenny?

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

Ethics of the Fathers states: “… The disciples of our father Abraham have a good eye, a meek spirit and a humble soul. The disciples of the wicked Bilaam have an evil eye, a haughty spirit and a gross soul… The disciples of our father Abraham benefit in this world and inherit the World To Come, and as is stated, “To bequeath to those who love Me there is, and their treasures I shall fill” (Proverbs 8:21). The disciples of the wicked Bilaam inherit purgatory and descent into the pit of destruction…” (5 19).

There are two glaring questions on the above teaching. First, the hallmark character trait of our forefather Abraham is loving-kindness. Why does the Mishna ignore this trait of Abraham? Second, is it not obvious that Abraham inherits the world to come as a result of his good deeds and that Bilaam inherits destruction as a result of his negative, destructive deeds? Why state the obvious?

The Maharal of Prague (16th century) points out that the key to understanding this lies in comparing the following two verses: “And he (Abraham) saddled his Chamor (male donkey – jack)” (Genesis 22) ; “And he (Bilaam) saddled his Aton (female donkey – jenny)” (Numbers 22). Abraham’s donkey was a male, termed a “jack” in the English language. Bilaam’s donkey was a female, termed a “jenny” in the English language. The term for a male donkey in Hebrew is ‘chamor’. It is called such because a donkey represents “chomer” – physical form and gross physicality. Abraham’s saddles a jack – representative of his relationship with the world of physicality. He has a connection to the world of physicality in the sense that he interacts with it, but is not bonded and married to it. He is spiritual and beyond the realm of physicality. Bilaam, on the other hand, saddles a jenny– representative of his ‘marriage’ to physicality. He is enmeshed in the world of physicality and desire. Perhaps this is what the Sages mean when they say Bilaam was involved in bestiality with his jenny.

Physical things, by definition, are always incomplete. Spiritual things, on the other hand, are whole and complete. Abraham is spiritual, he feels whole and complete. As a result of this, he has a ‘good eye.’ A ‘good eye’ means viewing the world positively, seeing the success of others and rejoicing, and feeling complete enough to share one’s resources with others. He has a ‘meek spirit’, he is spiritual and, therefore, humble. He has a ‘lowly soul’, meaning his desire for physical pleasure is under control. Bilaam, on the other hand, always feels lacking. This results in his ‘bad eye’; he views the world negatively, despises the success of others, and never feels he has enough to share with others.

Abraham feels satisfied, whole, and complete and, therefore, inherits the world to come (which is a place of wholeness and completion). Bilaam feels lacking and incomplete and, therefore, inherits the empty, lacking pit.

As we go on our life journey, let us ask ourselves this question: Am I saddling a jack or a jenny?