Sign In Forgot Password

"Pasture-al Care!"

12/24/2020 05:27:09 PM


Rabbi Reuben Israel Abraham, CDR, CHC, USN (ret)

In this “Age of COVID-19,” many members of the People Israel have opted to engage in Zoom prayer services offered by a plethora of institutions, most notably synagogues.  However, there are also many more who have opted, for any number of reasons, to eschew these opportunities.  Obviously, for many people there is no feeling of being in community with friends and family by being on Zoom.  So, what could they do?  I would dare say that there is probably much more private prayer taking place, at least here in America, than ever before.  At least, I hope there is, for I would be distressed and unhappy to learn that any of our people have opted to give up praying altogether simply because they cannot be together with others in shul.  And that thought brings me to this week’s parashah, Parashat Vayigash.

We read the following from this week’s sidrah: “And Yoseyf said to his brothers and to the household of his father, ‘I will go up and I will speak to Par’oh and I will say to him, “My brothers and the household of my father who [were] in the Land of Kena’an have come to me.  And the men are shepherds of livestock, for they have been herdsmen, and their livestock and their cattle and all that belongs to them they did bring.” (B’raysheet 46:31-32) Why the use of the two terms – “shepherds” and “herdsmen” - to describe Yoseyf’s brothers’ occupation?  The answer to this question begins by recognizing that being a herdsman you own the flocks you shepherd.  As such, you are an “independent contractor” in that the income you receive comes from selling the flocks you have shepherded.  And what does it take to shepherd flocks?  Not much.  The simple fact is that one who is a shepherd in the Land of Kena’an at that time had a lot of time on his hands, especially while his flock was grazing.  Our Tradition says that our most important ancestors – Avraham, Yitzchak, Ya’akov, Ya’akov’s sons, Moshe, Shmu’el HaNavi, and David – all chose to be shepherds so as to have seclusion in which they could engage in personal prayer to Hashem, this act being called “hitbodedut.”  Rebbe Nachman teaches: “When a person prays in the field, every blade of grass joins in his prayer, and helps him, and gives power to his prayer.”  So, in this age of seclusion from others (i.e.- quarantine), why aren’t more people speaking to Hashem “one-on-one?”  The answer most often given, which makes no sense to me at the current time, is that one has no time to set aside each day to speak with Hashem in personal prayer.  I would like to suggest that the following Chasidic parable shows the silliness of such a claim:

The King’s Interior Minister decided to take a walk along the river in order to vent the stress of a demanding day.  The late afternoon breeze and the sunlight on the gently flowing water soothed his soul.  Alone with the birds, the elegant willow trees, and the deep blue sky, he felt an indescribable inner peace.  Suddenly, he came upon a very disturbing sight: some one hundred meters in front of him sat a destitute figure by the riverbank, alternately wailing and moaning.  His clothes were torn, his hair and beard were dirty and unkempt, and he was grossly underweight.  “Who knows when this miserable soul had his last bath or meal?” the Interior Minister thought to himself.  He quickened his pace toward the miserable figure.

However, the closer the Interior Minister came to the poor soul, the more something seemed terribly, terribly wrong.  The destitute figure in front of him was strikingly similar in appearance to the King’s missing son who had inexplicably left the palace a number of years previously.  The Interior Minister approached the miserable young man and asked: “Aren’t you the King’s son?”  The lad stopped his moaning and wailing, looked over his shoulder nonchalantly at the Interior Minister, and replied: “Why, yes, I am!”  The Interior Minister continued: “Why do you look so terrible?  Why have you not eaten or bathed?  Your Father the King is the richest man on earth, and he can provide you with all your needs at the snap of a finger.  Why don’t you talk to him and tell him what you need?”

“I don’t have time, “replied the senseless Prince who then turned away to return to his moaning and wailing.

          So many of the People Israel are like the disheveled Prince of this story: they moan and wail about their lives and then do nothing else.  Perhaps if they engaged in personal prayer with Hashem each day, even if only once a day, they would feel HaShem’s Presence in their lives, a Presence that reminds of them of who they are and why they are.  Perhaps instead of giving up altogether on prayer because they cannot be together in shul, they should take a lesson from our ancestors and engage in “hitbodedut,” deep, personal prayer in seclusion with HaShem.  Perhaps they should become their own personal shepherds.

Sun, March 7 2021 23 Adar 5781