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The Jewish People - Sons and Sheep

The portion of Vayeitzei relates at length how Yaakov, while sojourning with Lavan, was involved with sheep. He was both shepherd and sheep owner, for he received sheep as payment for some of his years of service.

Every detail in Torah serves as an eternal lesson for all Jews at all times and in all places. This is especially so with regard to the actions of the Patriarchs, since these serve as an antecedent to the spiritual service of their offspring.1

Surely this is so regarding the lengthy story of Yaakov’s involvement with sheep. What spiritual lesson is to be gleaned from sheep?

The Midrash2 speaks of the relationship between G-d and the Jewish people in the following manner: “He is unto me a father, and I am unto Him as a son; He is unto me a shepherd and I am unto Him as sheep.”

Obviously, the relationship between father and son goes far beyond the relationship between a shepherd and his flock. Once the Midrash states that Jews are like G-d’s children, what additional bond is the Midrash hinting at when it states that G-d loves the Jewish people as a shepherd loves his sheep?

Describing Jews as G-d’s children implies that they are looked upon as a distinct entity.3 Although every Jewish soul is inseparably bound to G-d4 — unlike a physical father-and-son relationship, which can be broken — the very fact that a Jew is called “son” implies that he is another entity — he is not the Father.

Therefore, while as “children” of God our existence and our love for our Heavenly Father is important to Him, we remain created beings; entirely different from the ineffable Presence that is G-d. With regard to this essential state the verse states:5 “He has no son….”

This unbridgeable gulf is better described by likening the Jewish people’s relationship with G-d to that between a shepherd and his sheep; there is no comparison at all.

Nevertheless, this latter relationship also serves as an illustration; there is a fondness between the Shepherd and His flock. But in this context, our belovedness stems from the intensity of our self-nullification rather than from our state of being.

This self-effacement is alluded to in the metaphor of sheep, for we observe that sheep possess a greater degree of self-effacement than do other animals.

The two descriptions of the Jewish people — sons and sheep — allude to two forms of spiritual service:

The level of “son” results from the service of Torah study, which involves an individual’s comprehension. Though increased Torah learning brings increased closeness to G-d, it also brings increased awareness of the fundamental and unbridgeable distance between created and Creator.

The level of “sheep” is attained by purifying, refining and elevating the physical world. For the Hebrew word for sheep, tzon, is related to the word yetziah, or departure,6 referring to the “departure” from one’s intellectual self and the occupation of one’s body with worldly matters in order to transform the world into a dwelling fit for G-d.

It is specifically this manner of service that evokes true self-nullification to G-d, for in this form of service, the Jew serves not for his own benefit and spiritual elevation, but strictly for the sake of realizing the Divine goal of transforming this world into a dwelling place for G-d.

Based on Likkutei Sichos Vol. XV, pp. 252-254.

Shabbos — An Unlimited Heritage

In the Torah portion Vayeitzei , G-d blesses Yaakov, declaring to him:7 “You shall spread out to the west, to the east, to the north and to the south.” The Gemara comments:8 “Whoever delights in the Shabbos receives an unlimited heritage, as is written:9 ‘Then you shall delight in G-d… and I will nourish you with the heritage of Yaakov,’ of whom it is written: ‘You shall spread out to the west, to the east….’ ”

The reward for the performance of a mitzvah is, of course, measure for measure.10 What aspect of the mitzvah of Shabbos causes its reward to be “an unlimited heritage”?

Shabbos differs from all other mitzvos in that the performance of other mitzvos is achieved through labor and action. There are thus differences between the manner in which a very righteous individual will perform a mitzvah and the manner in which it will be performed by a simple person.

For example, tefillin are to be placed opposite the heart and upon the head so as to “bind” the head and heart to G-d. Understandably, there is a vast difference between the spiritual head and heart of a truly righteous individual and that of a less righteous one. The same is true with regard to other mitzvos.

Observing Shabbos, however, consists of a cessation from labor. With regard to “not doing,” all Jews can be equal.

Although the cessation of labor of simple folk involves refraining from menial tasks while the cessation of labor of the lofty involves a pause in the spiritual refinement of the physical world, these people only differ with regard to the manner of labor they are resting from; with regard to the resultant cessation of labor, all Shabbos-observant Jews are equal.11

Superficially, it would seem that the same would be true regarding all prohibitive commandments; like Shabbos, they involve not doing something. But upon closer reflection, the difference between the cessation of labor on Shabbos and the keeping of negative commandments is obvious:

Prohibitory commands are a direct outgrowth of positive ones. For example, the prohibition against idolatry stems from the positive command that a Jew is to have faith and knowledge only of G-d; the prohibition of eating non-kosher animals is a direct result of the mitzvah of kashrus, etc.

The cessation demanded by Shabbos, on the other hand, is the actual and entire commandment, as the verse states:12 “You shall not do any work… For [in] six days G-d made the heavens and earth… and rested on the seventh day.”

The reason why all Jews are entirely equal with regard to the mitzvah of cessation of labor on Shabbos stems from the fact that the mitzvah of Shabbos touches the essence of the Jewish soul. Differences between one Jew and another exist only on an external level; with regard to their essence, they are all equal.

This, too, is the meaning of the statement in the Minchah prayer of Shabbos: “May Your children recognize and know that from You is their rest, and by their rest they sanctify Your Name.” Shabbos rest derives from G-d’s very Essence — “from You.” This causes each Jew’s rest to be bound up with the essence of his soul.

It is also from this level of essential soul that a Jew finds the strength to offer his life for the sanctification of G-d’s Name — a power found in all Jews equally.

Thus, both Shabbos rest and ultimate self-sacrifice arise from the same source. It thus follows that “by their rest” i.e., by the very power that enables all Jews to rest equally on Shabbos, comes the ability to “sanctify Your Name.”

The connection between the blessing “And you shall spread out…” and Shabbos will be understood accordingly. “And you shall spread out…” is an unlimited heritage that derives from G-d’s limitless Essence. This is achieved through observing Shabbos, for Shabbos too stems from G-d’s Essence.

Based on Likkutei Sichos , Vol. XV, pp. 226-229.

1. See Likkutei Sichos V p. 69ff.
2. Shir HaShirim Rabbah 2:16 (1).
3. See Or HaTorah, Re’eh pp. 784-785, p. 795ff.
4. Likkutei Torah, Rosh HaShanah 62d.
5. Koheles 4:8.
6. Torah Or, Vayeitzei 23c; Toras Chayim, Vayeitzei 38b.
7. Bereishis 28:14.
8. Shabbos 118a.
9. Yeshayahu 58:14.
10. See Sotah 8b, 9b. See also Tanya ch. 39: “From its reward one knows its essence….”
11. See Ma’amar Atah Echad of the Mitteler Rebbe.
12. Shmos 20:10,11.



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