Wolves in Shepherd’s Clothing

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Vayeshev Shepherds

“Find your inner ‘piece'”

According to the stories in the Bible, shepherds are kind people and good leaders. It’s no coincidence that Abel, Abraham, Rachel, Jacob, Moses, and David are shepherds. Which makes the first episode of the Joseph mini-series story arc so strange.

The text emphasizes that Josephs brothers are shepherds so we would expect them to be cut from the same caring cloth of the other Biblical shepherd. It’s almost shocking that anyone would kidnap a brother, then consider murder, decide to sell into slavery, and then lie to their father in a massive cover-up. In the Biblical universe, it’s even more shocking because the brothers are shepherds.

According the text, the brothers were tending to their father’s sheep in Shechem. The brothers were not shepherding their own sheep, they were shepherding their father’s sheep. Jacob had his sons watch his sheep for him. It seems that the brothers did not choose to become shepherds and the sheep were not their sheep. I think this is the key to understanding how the brothers could be ruthless shepherds.

Someone who chooses to be a shepherd will likely be a person with the typical character we expect of a shepherd. Someone who is pressed into shepherding because it’s the family business might have the classic character of the shepherd, but it’s more likely that their character will be not very shepherd-like.

This might even explain why they are so cruel to Jacob. Asking people to work jobs that are not suited to their character is torture. Of course the brothers were on edge and so aggressive toward Joseph. They were working jobs that were against their nature. Just think about Simeon and Levi. In their hearts, they were warriors! Shepherding was not their calling. But they did it for their father. The character of the other brothers must have been more like Simeon and Levi than their father. It was a recipe for disaster.

Shepherds are warm, loving, and tender. That wasn’t the nature of the sons of Jacob. They were shepherds because they were working the family business, but it was not good for them. That’s why they were so vicious towards Joseph and perhaps that is also why they had no compunctions about causing pain to their father Jacob.

We all need to find our own way. We all need to find areas to excel that match our character. When we force a square peg into a round hole, it hurts. People suffer. The universe is a puzzle and we each have our own shape and our own space where we fit perfectly. If we don’t fit, maybe we are looking in the wrong space or maybe we don’t even know the shape of our puzzle piece.

When we are conscious of our flaws and strengths we can choose our space wisely and instead of the bitterness felt by Jacob’s sons, we can feel the sweetness of knowing you are right where you are supposed to be. Perhaps the key to finding PEACE is for us each to know the shape and place of our PIECE.

Rabbi Eliyahu Fink is the founder of shulontheinternet.com.
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