Becoming a Community of Shepherds
This article first appeared on MeaningfulMinute.org
Moshe Rabbeinu explodes onto the scene in Mitzrayim in two incredible episodes. First, he sees an Egyptian savagely beating a Jew, and he kills the Egyptian. Next, Moshe sees two Jews quarreling with each other, and he intervenes again. But rather than being able to create peace between them, they threaten Moshe with telling Pharaoh that it was Moshe who killed the Egyptian. Realizing that his own life is in danger, Moshe flees to Midian, where he saves the daughters of Yisro from mortal danger. Moshe marries Yisro’s daughter and becomes a shepherd to Yisro’s flock.
One must carefully read the subtle messages that are written between the lines of the Torah. Klal Yisrael is in the midst of a crushing exile in Mitzrayim. Moshe, as the potential redeemer, wonders about the nature of this exile. On his first day, he encounters the brutality of the Egyptian empire. Assuming that Klal Yisrael has not left Mitzrayim because they are physically weaker than their oppressors, Moshe leads with strength and kills the Egyptian. It is a message to Klal Yisrael that we will rise up and conquer the Egyptian regime. But on day two, Moshe discovers that it is not the lack of strength that is keeping Klal Yisrael in exile. It is their internal state of disunity. When he sees two Jews fighting with one another, and they threaten to tell his secret to Pharaoh and have him killed, Moshe realizes that he is unequipped to solve the current issue facing Klal Yisrael. Physically he is exceptionally capable. He kills the Egyptian and saves the daughters of Yisro from their would-be attackers. But how can Moshe create true unity in Klal Yisrael? Parents can force their children to behave. Children who are fighting may be separated by their parents, but that is not the same thing as children loving each other. How could Moshe Rabbeinu teach Klal Yisrael to love one another? To become a leader who could create true unity, he had to become a shepherd in Midian.
The Medrash tells us that a kid ran away from the flock one day under Moshe’s care. Moshe chased after it until it came to a spring and began to drink. When Moshe reached the kid, he cried: “Oh, I did not know that you were thirsty!” He cradled the runaway kid and carried it back to the flock. Said the Almighty: “You are merciful in tending sheep – you will tend My flock, the people of Israel.”
What was it about this episode that now Hashem determined that Moshe was ready to lead Klal Yisrael? Moshe Rabbeinu had clearly learned the three fundamental ingredients necessary to lead Klal Yisrael back to a state of unity.
Every single sheep in the flock is essential. The herd may be large, but the shepherd’s job is not to tend to the group but to tend to the needs of each individual sheep.
The kid did not run away from the flock because it was a bad sheep. It ran away because it was thirsty.
The kid cannot survive outside of the flock, but to bring the kid back to the flock, one must cradle it in your arms.
These three values were mission-critical to rebuilding unity in Klal Yisrael. Moshe needed to give over the fact that every single Jew in Klal Yisrael is of infinite importance. That the children that are leaving our community are not doing so because they are bad, but because they are thirsty and we have not given them what they need. And finally, to return these children to our community, we need to cradle them in our arms. Leaders lead by example. Now that Moshe was a raaya mehemna, a faithful shepherd, he could lead Klal Yisrael out of exile.
Maaseh avos simal l’banim, the occurrences in the lives of the fathers are a root of the lives of future generations. Once again, we are being called upon to be faithful shepherds to the children of our community. Our Yeshivas and Bais Yaakovs are overflowing with growth-oriented Bnei Torah and Bnos Yisrael. One could argue that we have more Mosdos of Torah now than ever before in the history of Klal Yisrael. And yet, we cannot pat ourselves on the back about our tremendous accomplishment as long as there are still children who are leaving our community. Each child is an entire universe. As faithful shepherds, we must make sure that every single child feels like there is a place for them.
Those leaving are not doing so because they are “bad kids.” They are thirsty for something more. A davening that is more inspired. A Torah that connects them to Hashem. A Shabbos that is more than just a good nap and a time away from technology. And to bring these children back into the fold, we must cradle them in our arms. A loving shepherd understands the pain that these kids have been through, and the feelings of frustration, rejection, anger, and loneliness that they have experienced.
We can and should validate their feelings. We can let these children know they have a warm shoulder to cry on, an ear that is open to hearing how they see the world. We will be better off having listened to what these people have to say. We can create wider roads to ensure that there is room for every child. We can build a Chinuch system that quenches their thirst so they don’t have to search elsewhere for spirituality. And make no mistake about it, those that have fallen into the world of drugs and alcohol and pornography, are absolutely looking for a connection to a Higher Power. They will be better off having shared with us their feelings. They will realize that there is a place for them in our community and they will benefit from all that our community has to offer. A fundamental aspect of serving Hashem is being a part of the Klal, but it is the responsibility of the Klal to carry these children back into the fold.