Vayeitzei – Sheep

In our parsha, we find three points regarding Yaakov and his profession: sheep. 1) It was sheep alone that were the basis of Yaakov’s physical success  2) Even though sheep were his main concern, Yaakov also exchanged some of them for other possessions such as servants, camels, and donkeys. 3) When he communicated with his brother Esau, he initially mentioned his other possessions, and only afterward did he mention sheep.

There is a spiritual message inherent in the details: Every Jew is called both a “son” and  “sheep” in relation to God. The Midrash on Song of Songs (2:16) states, “He is for me like a father, and I to Him like a son…He is for me like a shephard…and I to him like a sheep.”  But, if we Jews are considered like a “sons” of God, what does the Midrash add by comparing us to “sheep”?

A son, as obedient and pliant as he might be to his father, is still an independent entity.  He still possesses his own identity, with his own intellect, feelings and personality.  A sheep, though excels in the quality of “bitul” – selflessness.  It is entirely nullified to the will of the shepherd, and therefore it expresses the quality of self-sacrifice to something that is beyond us.  In spiritual terms. the “son” is one who learns Torah, developing his own connection and status within the spiritual walls of the Torah.  But, a “sheep” is one who goes out to work who is exposed to the elements, and makes his way, hopefully extracting the holy sparks that are out there and using them for his own spiritual purposes.  The Jews are compared to sheep when we leave the Beit Hamidrash and the world of Torah, and go out into the world to bring back sustenance.  To do this demands bitul, or self-sacrifice as we face a frequently hostile world and make the best of it.

Yaakov was in the first category while he lived in the house of his mother and father, Rivka and Yitzhak.  This, together with his fourteen years in the yeshiva of Shem and Eber learning Torah, prepared him for the second stage, when he went out to the world in the house of his uncle, Lavan. And there, all of his involvement was with sheep. Yet, he did not suffice with sheep alone.  He exchanged sheep for other creatures, such as donkeys and oxen.  Each of these represent other ways of serving God and getting closer to Him.  Yet, the basis remained his sheep – Yaakov never sold all of them.  The quality of bitul – self nullification and docility in the face of odds – remained Yaakov’s “stock in trade.”  But, he built upon this foundation, adding other forms of service as well.

And that explains why in the next parsha, Yaakov prefaces his conversation with his brother Esau by mentioning not his sheep, but first oxen and donkeys – although when we speak of ourselves we may place emphasis on modesty and self-effacement (as in a sheep), when we face hostile elements, we must radiate confidence and self-assuredness.  Thus, when addressing Esau, whose purpose was to harm him, Yaakov first mentioned that he was also armed with ways of defending himself – oxen and donkey – so that Esau need not think that Yaakov was a “pushover.”  Yaakov may have preferred the spiritual realm, but he was well suited to dealing with the physical world as well.

For more details and explanation, go to

From Likutei Sichot of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, vol. 15, pp 252-258

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: