Drasha - Parshas Vayeitzei
Volume 2 Issue 7
Sheep. You wouldn't think they'd play a major role in determining our leaders, but they did. The Midrash
says that one of Moshe's defining acts that moved G-d to choose him as the leader of Israel was his
attitude toward his animal flock. Once a ewe wandered from the pack, and Moshe scoured the desert to
find it. He finally found the parched and exhausted creature, and he fed and carried her back to the rest of
the flock. G-d was impressed. On the way home, Moshe saw a very fascinating sight. A burning bush.
The rest is history.
King David was also a shepherd. The Midrash tells us that David's handling of sheep was also the impetus
for G-d to choose him to lead His flock. David had a very calculated grazing system. First he would allow
only the young sheep to pasture. They would eat the most tender grass. After they finished, David allowed
the older sheep to graze. In this manner the tougher meadow grass was left for those sheep with stronger
jaws. The Midrash tells us that G-d was impressed with David's abilities to discern the different needs of
varying age groups and foresaw in those actions the leadership qualities needed to be King of Israel.
So much for the careers of two of our greatest Jewish leaders as shepherds. What troubles me is this
week's Torah portion which contains a long episode that also deals with sheep. It expounds in detail
exactly how Yaakov manipulated genetics and had the acumen to cultivate an amazingly large and diverse
flock. However, I am troubled. Why is a long narrative of seemingly inconsequential breeding techniques
detailed so intricately? The Torah spends nearly twenty verses on a half-dozen varieties of sheep colors
and explains how Yaakov bred them. Why are such seemingly insignificant breeding details given so
much play in the Torah? Let us analyze the story:
Yaakov worked fifteen years for his father-in-law, Lavan. No matter how arduously he toiled, Lavan
constantly tried to deny Yaakov compensation. Finally, he forced Yaakov to accept a share in the sheep as
wages, but only with certain stipulations. He would only compensate him with sheep that were an
mutation from the normal flock. First, he set Yaakov's wages to be paid with only speckled lambs that
born of Yaakov's flock. Yaakov, in a procedure that would have astounded even Gregor Mendel, produced
sheep exactly according to those specifications. Next, Lavan allowed him striped sheep. Again,
miraculously Yaakov cultivated his flock to produce a bounty of striped sheep! The Torah repeats the
episode in various colors and stripes. What could be the significance of its importance?
Rabbi Aryeh Levin was once standing outside his yeshiva in Jerusalem while the
children were on a 15 minute recess break. His son, Chaim, a teacher in the yeshiva, was standing and
observing, when suddenly his father tuned to him. "What do you see my son?" asked Rav Aryeh. "Why,"
he answered, "children playing!"
"Tell me about them," said Reb Aryeh. "Well," answered Reb Chaim, "Dovid is standing near the door of
the school, with his hands in his pockets, he probably is no athlete. Moishie is playing wildly, he
probably is undisciplined. Yankel is analyzing how the clouds are drifting. I guess he was not counted in
the game. But all in all they are just a bunch of children playing." Reb Aryeh turned to him and
exclaimed, "No, my son. You don't know how to watch the children.
"Dovid is near the door with his hands in his pockets because he has no sweater. His parents can't afford
winter clothes for him. Moishie is wild because his Rebbe scolded him and he is frustrated. And Yankel
is moping because his mother is ill and he bears the responsibility to help with the entire household.
"In order to be a Rebbe you must know each boy's needs and make sure to give him the proper attention to
fulfill those needs."
Yaakov had a very difficult task. His mission was to breed twelve tribes -- each to be directed in a unique
path. Some sons were to be merchants, others scholars. Judah was destined for royalty, while Levi was
suited to be a teacher of the common folk. Each son, like each Jew, had a special mission. Hashem needed
a father for the twelve tribes who would not breed all his children in the same mold. If Moshe's and
David's destinies were determined by their care and compassion for their animal flock, perhaps Yaakov's
development of twelve tribes was pre-determined by his development of a wide array of his flock. Only
someone who knew how to cultivate unity in diversity would know how to produce the forebearers of the
Text Copyright © 1996 Rabbi M. Kamenetzky and Project Genesis, Inc.