spirituality >> Torah portion
Being A Shepherd
Boosts One's Resu
Parshat Shemot: Exodus 1:1-6:1; Isaiah
n this week's Torah portion, Shemot,
we begin a new book in the Torah,
In Shemot, we meet the baby Moses,
the child who will become
a great leader. His begin-
nings are exciting, but not
so auspicious. He is fated to
be killed, as the Pharaoh has
proclaimed an edict that all
Jewish boys are to be mur-
But Pharaoh didn't count
on the cadre of strong women
who guided and shepherded
Moses to adulthood: his own
mother, Yocheved, Moses' big
sister, Miriam, and Pharaoh's
own daughter who has no
name in the Torah, but in Jewish tradi-
tion is known as "Batya."
Together, these three women, out of
love for this helpless baby, take Moses
out of the Nile (Batya does this), offer to
find him a wet nurse (Miriam does this)
and nourishes Moses (Yocheved man-
ages to do what no woman I know has
been able to accomplish; she is actually
paid to nurse her own child).
So, Moses, from these tension-fraught
beginnings, grows up in Pharaoh's house
and becomes an adult. Despite Moses'
privileged upbringing, he always has the
sensibility of a Jew. When Moses sees an
Egyptian beating a Hebrew slave, Moses
strikes the Egyptian taskmaster, killing
him. Moses quickly flees town and goes
out to the desert, fearful for his life.
While in the desert, Moses becomes
a shepherd. It is quite fascinating that
the greatest leader of the Jews, Moses,
and the greatest King of the Jews, King
David, both had early work experience
as shepherds. Why is it that shepherding
seems to be just the perfect entry level
job for future Jewish leadership?
It appears that good shepherding skills
are transferable to future leadership
roles. Good shepherds have regard and
care for their flock. They work to keep
their flock safe. They have to have good
interpersonal skills with farmers and
other shepherds, so they do not trespass
or intrude on other people's spaces.
And the shepherd must stand up for the
needs of their flocks.
In addition, (and believe it
or not, I learned this during
a shepherding class in Israel),
good shepherds understand
which animal is the "alpha,"
the big sheep, as it were, or
sometimes, as it was in my
class, the little female goat
The shepherd must share
leadership with the lead ani-
mal, knowing that the other
animals follow the alpha.
It is no accident that one
of the psalms of comfort
after losing a loved one is the 23rd
Psalm, which begins "The Lord is my
Shepherd" When we, God's flock, feel
lost and unmoored, the metaphor of a
God who counts us and looks after us
and tends to us is a source of solace that
resonates for many.
Moses, who was shepherded into
this world by three women of strength,
shepherds his animal flock, then tends
to the needs of his human flock as we
escape from Egypt and travel back to
our Promised Land. Moses' early work
prepared him for the job that he was
designed to do, the job that he was called
to do by our greatest Shepherd.
Keren Alpert is a rabbi at Temple Beth El in
Detroit Country Day School
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January 3 • 2013