Our father, Jacob, was also called Israel. And the Torah records that Israel said to his son, Joseph:
"Your brothers are pasturing in Shechem...Go now, look into the shalom of your brothers and the shalom of the sheep, and bring me back word." (Genesis 37:13,14)
Israel asked Joseph to look into the "shalom" - peace and welfare - of his brothers, and to also look into the shalom of the sheep. Why did the sheep merit a special inquiry about their shalom? Was it simply an expression of concern for his property? According to our tradition, there was a deeper reason for his concern. The Midrash explains that Israel inquired about the shalom of the sheep because of a sense of gratitude to the sheep for all the benefits that he received from them. The Midrash states that we can therefore learn from Israel's words the following good trait: "A person should inquire about the shalom of anything that he benefited from" (Genesis Rabbah).
The Compassionate One created an interdependent world in which all forms of life depend on each other. As Rabbi Hirsch wrote:
"All the world's creations give and receive - one from the other and one to the other. All separation and detachment is for the sake of mutual influence. Truly, this is the essence of all life on earth; all are in need of one another - not only to receive, but to give. The tree requires the earth but the earth also requires the tree. Everything receives only to give, and everything given ascends and returns to the giver - to bring about a further outpouring of blessing." (Commentary of Rabbi S.R. Hirsch on Genesis 1:11-13)
When we become more aware of what we receive – directly or indirectly – from all forms of life, we will experience a greater sense of gratitude for all the benefits that we receive. In this spirit, we should be concerned about the shalom of all living things.
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen
1. There is another verse which demonstrates the compassionate concern of our father for the shalom of the sheep: "And Jacob journeyed to Succos and built himself a house, and for his flocks, he made succos (booths of shelter); he therefore called the name of the place, Succos" (Genesis 33:17).
It seems strange that Jacob would name a place "Succos" just because he built there "succos" for his flocks. The Ohr HaChaim, a noted Sephardic kabbalist and biblical commentator, suggests that Jacob may have been the first person to build "succos" - booths of shelter - for his flocks, as a result of his compassion for the animals. Jacob therefore named the place "Succos" in order to commemorate this historic innovation.
2. The Midrash states: "When Moshe Rebbeinu - Moses, our Teacher - was tending the flock of Jethro in the wilderness, a little kid ran away from him. He ran after the kid until it reached the oasis, Hasuah. Upon reaching Hasuah, it came upon a pool of water, and the kid stopped to drink. When Moshe reached it, he said: 'I did not know that you were running because you were thirsty. You must be tired.' He placed the kid on his shoulder and began to walk. The Holy One, Blessed Be He, said: 'You are compassionate in leading flocks belonging to mortals; I swear you will similarly shepherd My flock, Israel.' " (Exodus Rabbah 2:2).