2004-12-17

Vayigash

This week I am beginning what I hope will be a regular weekly feature at Dreams Into Lightning: a few words about the Parasha, or weekly Torah portion. This week's Parasha is Vayigash, Gen. 44:19 - 47:31.

Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook:
The Shepherd Philosopher

The 4th century scholar Rabbi Zeira once found his teacher Rav
Yehuda in an unusually good mood. Realizing that it was a
propitious time to ask whatever he wanted, Rabbi Zeira posed the
following question:

"Why is it that the goats always stride in front of the herd, to be
followed by the sheep?"

"It is like the creation
of the universe: first there was darkness (the goats, who are
usually black), and afterwards light (the white sheep)." [Shabbat
77b]

Rabbi Zeira's query was not so out of line. The great
leaders of the Jewish people in ancient times were shepherds. As
Joseph's brothers told Pharaoh, "Like our fathers before us, we are
shepherds." [Genesis 47:5] We find that Moses and David also worked
in this profession. There must be a reason that our forefathers
chose to herd goats and sheep.

The life of a shepherd is a lifestyle that allows for reflection
and inner contemplation. The labor is not intensive. Unlike
farming, one does not need to immerse all of one's energies in
physical matters. At the same time, the shepherd remains in
constant contact with the real world. His reflections are of a
sound nature, not artificially cut off from life and reality. For
this reason, our forefathers, the great thinkers of their time,
worked as shepherds.

Rabbi Zeira's observation about flocks connects the external focus
of the shepherd - his goats and sheep - with his internal focus -
his thoughts and ideas.

The pattern of traveling sheep corresponds to the progression of
thought in the shepherd's mind. The dark goats breaking out in
front of the white sheep is a metaphor for the inspired but hazy
notions that surge forth in our thoughts. These insights are followed
by a flock of clarified ideas that have been properly examined by
our faculties of reason. In this way we develop the concepts that
form the basis for our spiritual and ethical life.

As Rav Yehuda pointed out, this order is inherent to the nature of
the world. The light in the universe was created out of the darkness.
This phenomenon is also true on a personal level. We cannot completely
dismiss the illusory aspects of our minds, for they inspire us to
originality of thought. Our imagination dominates our thought
processes; only through its opaque insights can we arrive at the path
of enlightened wisdom.

[Ein Aya vol. IV, pp. 144-5]
http://ravkook.n3.net - Rav A.I. Kook on the Weekly Parasha