Donkeys often live for twenty-five years or more. Some have been recorded as living to the ripe old age of sixty, although a forty-year-old donkey is considered to be elderly.Now consider the following Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer (perek 31), proximally based on the Biblical story of Akeidat Yitzchak (see right). According to this, the donkey Avraham saddled was the son of the she-donkey who was created at twilight (of the last day of Creation). It seems to cite a prooftext of וַיַּשְׁכֵּם אַבְרָהָם בַּבֹּקֶר, וַיַּחֲבֹשׁ אֶת-חֲמֹרוֹ, but that would suggest to me that the proof is from boker as standing in contrast to twilight, which seems unlikely. More likely is that the prooftext is a bit later, from וַיֹּאמֶר אַבְרָהָם אֶל-נְעָרָיו, שְׁבוּ-לָכֶם פֹּה עִם-הַחֲמוֹר, where the definite article pins it down to some previously known chamor, which it then equates with the one created at twilight. Now, that was a she-donkey, so it must be the son of the she-donkey. It then equates it with the donkey which Moshe rode upon traveling back to Egypt, in this week's parsha:
also rode on the same donkey as his wife and children; and perhaps the definite article in הַחֲמֹר functions to equate the two. And finally, this is the same donkey that the son of David (=Mashiach) will come riding on. Zechariah 9:9:
Another consideration in the forming of the midrash is what people sometimes term the closed-canon approach. A Biblical character is not allowed to merely pop up for a moment and then fade into the background. Rather, it is the same person (or in this case, animal) in play again and again. Thus, e.g., the palit who informed Avraham of Lot's capture was Og.
There are other chamorim mentioned throughout Tanach, many even with the definite article, but not noted by this midrash. Do a search and see what I mean., E.g. the one Avigayil rides on, or that the navi sheker rides on.
Now, if only al derech hateva this could not be the case as a matter of historical fact. If a doney lives up to a ripe old age of 60, when pressing it, then let us see:
1) The she-ass created at twilight of the last day of Creation would be quite old by the time Bilaam rode upon her.
2) Let us say that she gave birth to this chamor not immediately, but rather in the time of Avraham. Though then she would have to give birth in old-age, and we have something akin to the dispute between Ramban and Ibn Ezra about the birth of Yocheved and of Moshe. So the chamor was born in Avraham's time.
3) But according to a popular counting, from Yitzchak's birth until the Exodus was precisely 400 years. If we assume an old Yitzchak at the akeida, of 37 years old, we are left with a span of 363 years.
4) And if this would be the same donkey mashiach rides in on to bring the redemption, it would need to be many thousands of years old. No wonder mashiach is taking so long! Can you imagine how slowly this donkey must walk?!
I would further add that this idea that the she-donkey was born at twilight may well be the development of this midrashic author, rather than the intent of Chazal in Pirkei Avot. The Mishnah in Avot:
"Ten things were created on the Sabbath eve at twilight. They are: the mouth of the earth [which swallowed Korach and his co-conspirators] (Numbers 16:32), the mouth of the well [which accompanied Israel in the desert], the mouth of the donkey [which rebuked Balaam] (ibid., 22:28), the rainbow, the Manna, the staff [of Moses], the shamir worm, the script [of the Torah], the inscription [on the Tablets of the Ten Commandments], and the Tablets. Some say: also destructive spirits, the burial place of Moses, and the ram of our father Abraham [which he slaughtered in place of Isaac] (Genesis 22:13). And some say, also tongs -- which are made with tongs."The idea would seem to be (for many of them, at least), that certain "magical" creations are described as later developments at the hand of God, and also (perhaps) outside the derech hateva. The answer is that these exceptions to the rule were already part of the Divine Plan meireishit, from the beginning. Thus, the mouth of the earth might have been, or might not have been, a new creation (see Moshe's request of Hashem), but here, since it was known that this exception was to be needed later, it was created now.
Now, this Mishnah does not say that the she-donkey was created at twilight. It states that the mouth of the she-donkey was created at twilight. In other words, this miracle which is outside the realm of the natural order. And so the pasuk in parshat Balak states that Hashem opened the mouth of the she-donkey -- and this was part of Creation, as almost an afterthought. If the donkey were capable from sheshet yemei bereishit, would it not have talked to Bilaam before this? Rather, it is the nes which was prepared from sheshet yemei bereishit. And as such, Bilaam's she-donkey need not be so old. This might be the interpretation and the extension made by the midrashist in Pirkei De-Rabbi Eliezer. If the she-donkey were born later, then she would be unlikely to have birthed Avraham's donkey, though Moshe's might remain a possibility.
Now, Rashi cited this midrash, in part. He writes:
or in English:(כ) על החמר -
חמור המיוחד, הוא החמור שחבש אברהם לעקידת יצחק והוא שעתיד מלך המשיח להגלות עליו, שנאמר (זכריה ט ט) עני ורוכב על חמור:
mounted them upon the donkey The designated donkey. That is the donkey that Abraham saddled for the binding of Isaac, and that is the one upon whom the King Messiah is destined to appear, as it is said: “humble, and riding a donkey” (Zech. 9:9). — [from Pirkei Rabbi Eliezer, ch. 31]He does not echo this idea that it was the son of the she-donkey created at twilight, but the other points are there.
Does he mean this literally? It is certainly possible. And if so, I would simply disagree with Rashi, and declare that this is not peshat in the pasuk nor was it likely to have been the historical reality.
There is another possibility, that this was intended as midrash, and to pick up a message from the Biblical text. That message might be Moshe Rabbenu, redeemer of Israel from Egypt, as a precursor of mashiach. That is why Moshe rides on the donkey, just as mashiach will eventually ride in on a donkey. Perhaps there is even the personality point of humility, since Moshe was the most humble (he wrote so himself!), and according to Zechariah, mashiach will be "humble