In the midst of the Jewish people’s exodus from Egypt, we find two instances where the Torah describes the significance of a non-Kosher animal. While Hashem went through Egypt and killed the firstborns, we read that ‘to all of the Jewish people, no dog barked’ (11:7). Later in the Parsha, when delineating different mitzvot in connection to Egypt, Hashem instructs us to redeem a firstborn donkey, as they have an innate level of holiness which cannot be abused.
Why are each of these singled out? Chazal teach us that each of them were instrumental in the exodus and both got rewarded. For the dog’s silence during the last plague, it was rewarded with our non-slaughtered meat, as the Torah instructs us in Shemot 22:31. The holiness of the donkey, similarly, is in reward for their carrying of spoils as the Jews left Egypt. While they both seem worthy, however, these rewards don’t seem parallel. On teh one hand, the donkey is pronounced a holy animal, deemed with restriction and requirements to even allow us to make use of him. In contrast, the dog not only receives simple, physical pleasure, he merely gets the food that were ourselves are not even allowed to eat! How are these two rewards equitable? Why the difference between the two?
Rav Yosef Chaim Zonnenfeld is quoted as saying, homiletically, that there is a big difference between the actions of the dogs and those of the donkeys. While the dogs were certainly righteous in refraining from making noise, their silence wasn’t pro-actively helpful. The donkeys, on the other hand, carried the burdens of the Jewish people. That, says Rav Zonnenfeld, is the essence of holiness- carrying the burden of another person. The sacrifice of one’s own comfort on behalf of another’s is how we too can become holy. Sure, the dog’s were righteous in their silence, but the donkeys were carrying holy burdens.