Realizing that he is nearing the end of his life and his tenure as the leader of the Israelites, Moshe turns to God to ask for a succession plan. “Let the LORD, source of the spirits of all flesh, appoint someone over the community who shall go out before them and come in before them, and who shall take them out and bring them in, so that the LORD’s community may not be like sheep that have no shepherd” (Numbers 27:16-17).
One can’t help but notice the shepherd imagery and think back to the beginning of Moshe’s career in leadership. When God chose him back in Exodus 3, Moshe was tending his father-in-law’s flock. It is thus so fitting that Moshe uses this imagery in asking for his replacement to be designated. You may have heard of the midrash that describes Moshe chasing after a solitary ewe who had gone astray from the flock, then carrying the animal back to safety. The rabbis say that this act of devotion and tenderness to one wandering animal made him worthy in God’s eyes of leading God’s flock, the Children of Israel.
Would it really have been so bad for Moshe to write off one animal? Could he not have told Yitro that a save percentage of 99.9% was plenty good (worthy of a unanimous vote into the shepherd’s hall of fame)? Besides, maybe that stray animal was known for marching to its own beat and often wandered off alone. Actually, the rabbis imagine that the same attitude Moshe displayed as a shepherd of four-legged creatures was still intact after 40 years of tending to a flock of humans. On Shabbat morning, we’ll look at another midrash that features Moshe’s celebration of difference. And I’ll reflect on how I saw that celebration on display in my time at the Shalom Hartman Institute earlier this month.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,