Elul 12: Count

by Rebecca Einstein Schorr on 23 August 2018 @ 12:03 am

Photo by Fesus Robert


Everything I know about shepherding comes from Jewish tradition.

The Midrash about Moses caring for the lost sheep:

Our teachers have said: Once, while Moses our Teacher was tending [his father-in-law] Yitro’s sheep, one of the sheep ran away. Moses ran after it until it reached a small, shaded place. There, the lamb came across a pool and began to drink. As Moses approached the lamb, he said, “I did not know you ran away because you were thirsty. You are so exhausted!” He then put the lamb on his shoulders and carried him back. The Holy One said, “Since you tend the sheep of human beings with such overwhelming love – by your life, I swear you shall be the shepherd of My sheep, Israel.” (Shemot Rabbah 2:2)

David, too, herded sheep and the same Midrash that speaks about Moses (Shemot Rabbah 2:2) also speaks of David’s shepherding technique right before the above Moses story:

**By what does God try him? By tending flocks. God tried David through sheep and found him to be a good shepherd, as it is said: [God] chose David also God’s servant and took him from the sheepfolds (Psalm 78:70). Why ‘from the sheepfolds‘, when the word is the same as and the rain … was restrained? (Genesis 8:2). Because he used to stop the bigger sheep from going out before the smaller ones, and bring smaller ones out first, so that they should graze upon the tender grass, and afterwards he allowed the old sheep to feed from the ordinary grass, and lastly, he brought forth the young, lusty sheep to eat the tougher grass. Whereupon God said: ‘He who knows how to look after sheep, bestowing upon each the care it deserves, shall come and tend my people,’ as it says, From following the ewes that give suck God brought him, to be shepherd over Jacob God’s people (Psalm 78:71).

In both stories, the shepherd cares for the flock with such sweet tenderness and consideration. With that as my image of a shepherd, I read the text of the Unetaneh Tokef and imagine God lovingly and carefully tending to each one of us as we pass under God’s staff.


וְכָל בָּאֵי עוֹלָם יַעַבְרוּן לְפָנֶיךָ כִּבְנֵי מָרוֹן כְּבַקָּרַת רוֹעֶה עֶדְרוֹ מַעֲבִיר צֹאנוֹ תַּחַת שִׁבְטוֹ כֵּן תַּעֲבִיר וְתִסְפֹּר וְתִמְנֶה וְתִפְקֹד נֶפֶשׁ כָּל חָי וְתַחְתֹּךְ קִצְבָה לְכָל בְּרִיָּה וְתִכְתֹּב אֶת גְּזַר דִּינָם

…and all creatures shall parade before You as a herd of sheep. As a shepherd herds his flock, directing his sheep to pass under his staff, so do You shall pass, count, and record the souls of all living, and decree a limit to each person’s days, and inscribe their final judgment.

Each one of us will be counted.
And each one of our actions will be counted.
Not one will slip past the Shepherd.
The One Who Gives Life to All
and Who Takes Notice of Us and All That We Do.

*Hebrew text and translation courtesy of Sefaria.org.
**Translation by Rabbi Dr. S. M. Lehrman.

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#BlogElul 2018

#BlogElul is a monthlong exploration of themes pertaining to the High Holy Days. Created by R’ Phyllis Sommer, the #BlogElul #ElulGram project allows participants to delve into topics as a way of preparing for the season.

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