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By: Efraim Harari

Sheep are timid creatures that tend to graze in large flocks. Unlike other animals, sheep do not have a means to protect themselves, and are defenseless against predators. Sheep are unable to fight back, and they are not fast enough to run away from predators such as wolves or coyotes. Without a shepherd to protect them, they’d be attacked and eaten one by one.

Sheep are also prone to wander. If a shepherd
doesn’t manage them, they can wander off into unsafe territories. When one sheep moves, the rest usually follow, even if it is not a good idea. The flocking and following instinct of sheep is so strong that it caused the death of four hundred sheep in 2006 in eastern Turkey. The sheep all plunged to their death after one of the sheep tried to cross a fifty-foot-deep ravine,
and the rest of the flock followed.

The shepherd’s responsibility is the safety and welfare of the flock. The shepherd will lead the animals to a good grazing area, and as the sheep eat up whatever plant-life is there, the shepherd will move the sheep to another area, always ensuring that they have enough food and water.

Don,t Forget
About Me!

A sheep will become very upset if it is separated from the rest of
its flock.

Torah Connection

Moshe was shepherding the sheep of his father-in-law Yitro,
a priest of Midian...and he arrived at the Mountain of Hashem.


The Be'er Yosef brings a midrash (ShemotRabbah2:2) which points out the fact that many great figures in Tanach started out as shepherds. The midrash says, Hashem does not bestow greatness upon a person without first testing him regarding small things.For example, Moshe began his “training” by tending to sheep, and only after Hashem saw how devoted and caring Moshe was to his flock, did He make him the leader of Klal Yisrael.

As a shepherd, Moshe showed concern for every little sheep. The midrash (ibid.) tells us that once, a sheep in Moshe’s flock ran away.
He chased after the animal, gave it to drink, and then gently carried it back to the rest of the flock. Hashem said, “A man who cares for his sheep in this way will surely take good care of his people.”

A good leader must be able to address all of his people’s needs, which often may seem quite small and unimportant. It can be difficult for a person on a very high level to relate to matters that are small, but Moshe Rabbeinu, the greatest man who ever lived, was able to do this, just as he worried and cared for the needs of that single, lost sheep.

This, then, is the meaning of the midrash that Hashem chooses His leaders through “small things”: Hashem looks to see if, despite a person’s greatness, he is able to feel for others and deal with their small, everyday matters, thus relating to the needs of allpeople.

Why Sheep Follow Each Other

Sheep are best known for their strong flocking and following instinct. This natural instinct is due to a couple of reasons. Firstly, they band together in large groups as a way of protecting themselves. There is safety in numbers. It is harder for a predator to pick a sheep out of a group than to go after a few strays.

Sheep are also very social creatures. While grazing, sheep are more at ease in a group of at least four or five. It gives them a sense of security when they can have visual contact with other members of the flock.

Even from birth, young sheep, called lambs, are taught to follow the older members of the flock; the female sheep, called ewes, encourage their lambs to do so. The dominant members of the flock usually lead the other sheep.