"Moses took his wife and sons and mounted them on the donkey, and he [prepared to] go back to the land of Egypt…" (Ex. 4:20)

Not just a donkey but the donkey. This was the donkey that Abraham saddled when he took Isaac to be bound and upon which the Mashiach will ride when he is revealed.

The Torah takes the trouble to tell us that Moses took his family back to Egypt on this miraculous donkey because this is how G‑d answered Moses' request that He send someone else to redeem Israel. We saw in previous verses that Moses had two reasons to demur: (1) he hesitated to rise to a higher position than his elder brother, and (2) he knew that, in any case, he would not bring the people to their final redemption - and therefore thought that the exercise was fruitless.

To answer these complaints, G‑d had Moses ride the donkey that Abraham had readily saddled to fulfill G‑d's command, indicating to him that he, too, should fulfill G‑d's command without hesitation. The fact that this donkey was also the one that the Mashiach will ride indicated that Moses should regard the redemption from Egypt not as a failed attempt to reach the ultimate redemption but as a necessary phase in it. Furthermore, by emphasizing that the Mashiach will be revealed riding specifically on a lowly donkey, G‑d was telling Moses that his humility (in wishing to defer to Aaron) was in fact his prime qualification for the role of redeemer. The material world enables the soul to accomplish much… The material world enables the soul to accomplish much…

In Abraham's time, before the giving of the Torah, materiality could at best be controlled and tamed so as not to interfere with the pursuit of holiness. Material things or pursuits could be harnessed temporarily for holy purposes, but could not themselves become holy. Abraham therefore only put his wood and knife on the donkey, indicating that materiality at that point could only be used as an instrument for holiness.

In Moses' time, after the purification process of the exile and as the Torah was about to be given, it became possible to sanctify materiality by imbuing it with divine consciousness. Thus, although Moses himself could not yet ride the donkey, he could put his wife and children on it. As we have seen before, the "feminine" side of our personality is our drive to reveal divinity in the physical world and, in this context, our "progeny" is the heightened divine consciousness we propagate by doing so. With the giving of the Torah, it became possible for divinity to transform materiality from an obstacle into a vehicle for divine purposes. Materiality…will be able to propel the soul beyond its innate capacities of awareness into consummate consciousness of G‑d's essence…

In the Messianic Era, materiality will be consummately refined. Fully stripped of its negative context, it will be able to propel the soul beyond its innate capacities of awareness into consummate consciousness of G‑d's essence. Even our "masculine" sides, our drive for abstract holiness, will be able to "ride the donkey," to be fulfilled through material things. (This is because materiality, i.e., the erroneous presumption of possessing self-sustaining existence, can be derived only from G‑d's essence, the true reality of self-sustaining existence. In contrast, spirituality, i.e., the awareness of being dependent on G‑d's reality, does not derive directly from G‑d's essence but rather from His revelation.)

Analogously, these three stages exist in every individual's personal spiritual development, particularly vis-a-vis one's ability to elevate and refine materiality. In the early stages of our spiritual development, we need to subdue our inborn material orientation, preventing it from acting as an obstacle to our holier pursuits. As we mature, the divine consciousness generated by the Torah we study and the commandments we perform begins to permeate our materiality. We can begin to use materiality for holy purposes (for example, we can eat, sleep, earn a living, etc., with the intention to thereby have the means to study the Torah and perform the commandments). In this way, we fulfill the sages' instruction (Avot 2:1) that "all your deeds should be done for the sake of heaven." Finally, as we refine our materiality, our material experiences themselves are transformed into vehicles for experiencing divinity. In this way, we fulfill the verse, "Know Him in all your ways." (Proverbs 3:6)

In fact, the prophets use two images to describe the advent of the Mashiach. In one, he is "poor, riding on a donkey" (Zachariah 9:9); in the other, he comes "with the clouds of heaven" (Daniel 7:13). We may reconcile these images by applying them to the two facets of the divine revelation that will accompany the messianic redemption. Using materiality "for the sake of heaven" will reveal "the clouds of heaven", the innate spirituality within Creation. Knowing G‑d "in all your ways" will reveal the divinity that is "riding on the donkey", the transcendent consciousness of G‑d's essence.

Adapted by Moshe Yakov Wisnefsky from Likutei Sichot, vol. 31, pp. 15-19; vol. 1, pp. 70-73.

Copyright 2001 Chabad of California / http://www.LAchumash.org