We covered the story of Balaam and the talking donkey last week in Torah Study. (The Balaam and talking donkey episode is in Numbers 22, here. A Torah.com offering, Do Animals Feel Pain? Balaam’s Donkey vs. Descartes (thetorah.com here) is wonderful midrash (in an expansive sense) on that story. Remember that Balaam rebukes the donkey for no appropriate reason. Then, according to this midrash, The Angel Sides with the Donkey, here. That is a comforting thought for all of us metaphorical and real donkeys. Some snippets.
Just how appropriately it [the donkey] has behaved and spoken is confirmed when the angel rebukes Balaam. First, he repeats the animal’s complaint, in the same words the donkey uses, thereby validating it (v. 32).
Second, he makes Balaam aware that everything the donkey has done was for his own good and that he owes the animal his life (vv. 32–33).
Balaam is forced to apologize and admit his sinful behavior, pleading that the reason he erred was because, unlike his donkey, he did not know the angel was there (לֹא יָדַעְתִּי כִּי אַתָּה נִצָּב לִקְרָאתִי).
How often do we act inappropriate when we do not recognize that the Angel or God is there?
Animal Suffering in the Torah
The story of Balaam’s donkey is an extreme instance of something we see elsewhere in the Torah, that animals have feelings and it is incumbent upon humans to take this into consideration. In contrast to Descartes’ notion, which circulated widely and had a detrimental influence on the treatment of animals (as can be seen in Solomon Maimon’s story), the Torah never doubts that animals feel pain and that a goat is most certainly not a drum.
A wonderful lesson.