In Parshat Vayetze, we learn about the young adult lives of our ancestors Jacob, Rachel, and Leah. They are immersed in a shepherding culture. Their parents are shepherds, and they are named after sheep. Jacob means “Follower,” Rachel means “Ewe,” and Leah means “Wild Mother.” As they mature, they all work in the family business. When Jacob first becomes aware of his connection with God, his expectations are drawn from the shepherd-sheep relationship: he asks God to protect him and feed him.
Three levels of care seem to emerge here. When Jacob, Rachel and Leah are born, their parents see them as part of the flock under their parental care. As Jacob, Rachel and Leah mature, they become caretakers. Over time, they come to recognize that they, too, depend on others. They come to recognize that this care is a gift of God’s grace. All at the same time, they are sheep, cared for by human shepherds; shepherds, who care for their flocks; and sheep cared for by God.
It’s not difficult to understand what it might mean, spiritually, to be both sheep and shepherds. Receiving love is also a call to give love. But what does it mean to speak of a third layer to this seemingly complete cycle? What might it mean to become a sheep relative to the Divine shepherd? Perhaps it hints that the cycle of love is a gateway to spiritual awareness. Many people say they recognize God in their experiences of unconditional love. These experiences may come easily, as part of early family life or they may come as surprises later in life. Either way, their power and presence often sustain us through the most difficult times.
Where do you find the source of your ability to love?
For more reflections on Parshat Vayetze, click here.