I know plenty of people who read or hear read, or simply know of) the may wondrous miracles that happen in the Torah. While many may be skeptical about the veracity or historicity of these events, they often don’t seem to put out by them or overly troubled by them. Plagues, splitting seas. Manna. Water from a rock. Blooming staffs. Suddenly leprous skin appearing and disappearing. Burning bushes unconsumed. They’re willing to overlook these excesses of narrative, they don’t press their concern.
Yet, all of a sudden, for some strange reason, when it comes to a talking donkey, they are suddenly incredulous. What is it about the talking donkey that people find challenging? These days, lots of things that don’t usually talk can talk. Our cars talk to us. Our phones talk to us. Answering machines talk to us. Elevators talk to us. ATM machines talk to us. Scientists work with chimpanzees, apes, gorillas, dolphins and many more animals trying to see if they can actually communicate with humans in a fashion. People certainly seem to have no issue with an animated donkey that sounds like Eddie Murphy.
Sometimes I feel as if we need to change the old adage “when pigs fly” to “when donkeys talk” because more people seem to be uncomfortable with the talking donkey here in parashat Balak than with possibly flying pigs.
Does it have something to do with our relationship with animals – both those we use to service us as well as those we have for pets? (Most, though not all people, who utilize animals to serve them also seem to have a personal bond or connection with them that transcends the norms between species. Even Tevye talked with his horse as if it were his best friend.
Maybe it has something to do with being a society that grew up with Mister Ed (or in the case of younger folks, the aforementioned Eddie Murpjy donkey from Shrek.) However, familiarity with these examples of talking animals ought to make us less skeptical of the biblical story, don’t you think?
Apparently not. We struggle. Not, it would seem, with parting seas and burning bushes, but talking donkeys.
©2012 by Adrian A. Durlester
Other musings on this parasha: