The timeless blessing of Yaakov Avinu to his beloved son Yosef, and to Yosef’s two sons, opens with praise of Hashem:(48:15) ‘G-d before Whom my forefathers Avraham and Yitzchak walked - G-d who shepherds me from my inception until this day’.
The Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh explains the reason for there being two separate clauses:’’G-d before Whom my forefathers walked’ alludes to Avraham and Yitzchak, who ‘walked before’ G-d, without His support, so to speak, in spreading His Name and message to places where it was not known.
‘Yaakov, in his humility, felt that he was not of their stature, to merit ‘walking before G-d’, but, rather, G-d was, and had always been, the One who ‘shepherds me from my inception until this day’- Who guides me and, in His chesed, sustains me.’
Adds the Alshich Hakadosh: ‘This is why Yaakov, in the following sentence of his blessing, says:’May the angel who redeems me from all evil bless the lads’.
‘He did so, to explain to his grandchildren, why, though he, Yaakov, merited to be blessed in the name of G-d, his blessing to them, could only be by ‘the angel’. This, he explained to them, was because he was not of the same stature as his forefathers, who ‘walked before G-d’, whereas he was at a lower level in his relationship with Hashem-Hashem had shepherded him all his days.
‘Just as he was at a lower level than his forefathers, so too his blessing could only be of a lesser level- by the angel, and not G-d in whose name, his father had blessed him’.
The Malbim similarly expounds:’In his humility, Yaakov thought that Hashem’s הנהגה: relationship with his forefathers differed from His way with him. Because of their righteousness, they ‘brought down’ miraculous blessings; however, he, Yaakov, only merited to be guided by Hashem in the way of nature, likened to the shepherd who does not look too closely at the merit of his flock, but ensures their sustenance, in a natural manner.’
Now let us nourish our souls, with a wondrous insight by Rav Matityahu Solomon, as to why Yaakov Avinu, in his blessing, invoked the title of ‘Shepherd’, to describe his relationship with G-d.
The Rav takes us back to Yaakov’s ‘complaint’ in Parashat Miketz, when, realizing that there was no option but to send Binyamin, his beloved ‘remaining’ - as he thought - son from Rachel, to Egypt, as the condition for obtaining food to enable his family to survive the famine, cried out to his sons: למה הרעתם לי: Why have you harmed me, by telling the man that you have another brother’.
‘Our Sages comment on these words of Yaakov:’At no other time, than here, did Yaakov Avinu utter דבר של בטלה: meaningless words! Said Hakadosh Baruch Hu: I am engaged in his son being crowned in Egypt, and he says:’Why have you harmed me!?’.
‘And here we are compelled to ask: Where did Yaakov Avinu atone for these inappropriate words?
‘And we toiled, and with help from Above, we found an answer: In the words of Yaakov Avinu, in Parashat Vayechi, in his blessing to Yosef, in his words:’And he blessed Yosef and he said..G-d who shepherds me from my inception until this day’.
‘To understand the purport of these words, let us study another passage, in which Hashem is called ‘my shepherd’: In Psalm 23, when ‘the sweet singer of Israel, David Hamelech so lyrically praises Hashem, lauding:’Hashem is my shepherd, I shall not lack. In lush meadows He lays me down, beside tranquil waters He leads me’.
‘Rav Chaim miVolozhin beautifully derives from these words, that, here, David Hamelech lays down that the bitachon we need to have in Hashem, can be likened to the sheep, just as all of their needs are met by their shepherd, so too, we are to cast all of our needs on Hashem, in complete faith and emunah, that He will sustain us.
‘In this Psalm, David Hamelech expressed this, by calling Hashem his ‘shepherd’, just like the shepherd of sheep; on occasion, although the sheep want to move to another place, to pasture, the shepherd, ‘he lays them down’, because, despite the wishes of the sheep, he knows that this is better for them; at other times, when they want to stay in a spot, ‘he leads’ them, makes them move away, to a spot he knows to be better for them.
‘The sheep do not understand why the shepherd is doing this, but, as David Hamelech declares, the shepherd’s sole concern is for what is best for the sheep.
‘So too’, expounds Rav Chaim, ‘ Hashem guides us, His flock; although we may be troubled by what befalls us, it is all for our good, and out of Hashem’s love for us, his sheep, and we must accept in complete emunah, that, because ‘Hashem is’ our ‘shepherd, I shall not lack.’
‘We find another, more proximate reason as to why Yaakov Avinu chose to describe Hashem as ‘his shepherd’, at this point in time.
‘In Parashat Vayigash, after his descent to Egypt, when Yaakov is presented to Pharoah for the first time, and is asked as to his age, presumably because of his aged appearance, he answers:’The days of the years of my sojourns have been a hundred and thirty years. מעט ורעים: few and bad have been the days of the years of my life’.
‘The Da’at Zkeinim miBa’alei Tosafot bring the Midrash:’When Yaakov said that his years were ‘few and bad’, Hashem said to him: I saved you from Esav and Laban, I returned Dinah to you, as well as Yosef, and you lament that your days ‘were few and bad’! I swear that your life shall be shortened, one year for each of these words’.
‘And now, as Yaakov Avinu’s life was coming to its end, in the way of the righteous, he conducted a חשבון נפש: ‘soul searching’ of his life, and brought to mind his inappropriate words, and sought to make atonement for them.
‘To do so, he ‘created’ a new title for Hashem: ‘G-d Who shepherds me from my inception until this day’, to say: I erred just like the sheep, who thought the shepherd was acting capriciously; so too, I did not appreciate sufficiently the guiding hand of Hashem, who sustained me like the shepherd whose sole concern is for what is best for his flock- and has done so, from my birth till this day.’
A beautiful parting ‘dessert’ from Rav Solomon: the word for ‘shepherd’ is spelled here in the Torah without the vav - רעה instead of רועה - being the letters of רעה: bad, to allude that what appears to us at times as ‘bad’, is in fact the chesed of the shepherd, whose concern is always for our good!
לרפואת נועם עליזה בת זהבה רבקה ונחום אלימלך רפאל בן זהבה רבקה, בתוך שאר חולי עמנו.