The Lost Sheep of Israel’s Shepherd

Dear Friends,


In this letter, we will explore a third way in which spiritual outreach to our brethren enables us to fulfill the mitzvah to return that which is lost. Our exploration will begin through citing the opening verse from Psalm 23 – a psalm of our people which has also become a source of inspiration, comfort, and hope for many spiritual individuals from other peoples:


“A Song of David: Hashem is my shepherd, I shall not want.”


King David felt that Hashem, the Compassionate and Life-Giving One, was his Shepherd. As we know, a psalm can have several levels of meaning. For example, Midrash Tehillim on Psalm 23 teaches that this psalm is also the song of Israel; thus, King David is expressing the song of his people. In this song, Israel is saying, “Hashem is my shepherd!” The Midrash explains that this is a reference to the way Hashem guided Israel and provided Israel with all its needs during the journey from Egypt to the Promised Land. This interpretation is supported by the following verse in a later psalm:
“Then He caused His people to journey like sheep, and guided them like a flock in the wilderness.” (Psalm 78:52) 


In another psalm, David addresses Hashem as, “Shepherd of Israel” (Psalm 80:2). In addition, David refers to Israel as “the sheep of His pasture” (Psalm 100:3).


It can happen that sheep will stray from the shepherd and get lost. The same is true with the “sheep” of Israel. Some of the lost sheep of Israel do not know how to find the way back. Some have even forgotten that they are part of the flock of Israel and that their Shepherd yearns for their return. In all such cases, it is a mitzvah to help these lost sheep to return to their Shepherd.


The following prophecies reveal the Divine promise that the Shepherd of Israel will eventually gather His flock. As we previously explained, the references to the ingathering of our people can refer to both a physical and spiritual return:


“For thus said the Master of All, Hashem, God: Behold, I am here, and I will seek out My sheep, and I will tend them. As a shepherd tends his flock on the day he is among his scattered sheep, so I will tend to My sheep and rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on the day of cloud and darkness.” (Ezekiel 34: 11. 12)


Hashem adds:


“For the lost I will search; the banished I will retrieve; the broken I will bind; the ill I will strengthen” (Ezekiel 34:16).


May we all be blessed with a good homecoming.


Yosef Ben Shalom Hakohen (See below)


Related Teachings and Insights:


1. There was a period in the life of King David when he felt that he had strayed from Hashem, his Shepherd; thus, he prayed:


“I have strayed like a lost sheep; seek Your servant, for I have not forgotten Your mitzvos.” (Psalm 119:176)


When we stray like a lost sheep, we can pray to Hashem, our Shepherd, to help us return.


2. In a previous series, we discussed the deep metaphysical teaching cited by the Vilna Gaon which reveals that the human being was created with the traits of each of the creatures within the creation (commentary to Genesis 1:26). The human being is to therefore dedicate each of these diverse traits to serving the life-giving Divine purpose. For example, the above teachings in this letter remind us that we have the trait of sheep within us; thus, this trait can be used by following the life-giving path of our Shepherd. (A copy of the Vilna Gaon’s teaching can be sent to you upon request.)


3. Following the Festival of Succos, we have the celebration of “Simchas Torah” – the Joy of the Torah. During this celebration, some communities have the following custom which reminds us that we are to be the holy sheep of the Holy Shepherd:


At the completion of a cycle of dancing with the Torahs, someone calls out to the congregation, Tzon Kedoshim! – Holy Sheep! Everyone then responds by bleating, Baa.

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