Eleven years ago, I found myself focusing on a seemingly unimportant part of parashat Vayeshev, which I'd like to revisit now. In Bereshit 37:14 Yaakov (Israel) sends Yosef to see how his brothers and the sheep are doing. Not just to check on his brothers. Not just to check on the sheep. But to check on both. Clearly, Yaakov values both his sons and his flock. Well, of course he does. His sons are of his flesh and blood. His sheep are his livelihood. It's a pretty interdependent relationship.
In today's topsy-turvy world, I see far too often situations in which people either worry about only the sons, or only the sheep (or sadly, not worrying about either.) I have been in board and business meetings where the only concern is the money (the sheep) with little or no regard for the people. Rules are rules, policies are policies. The bottom line is all that matters. People are treated like sheep-whoops-well, actually, no, they're not, in the modern sense of that turn of phrase-because if they were Yaakov's sheep they would have been looked after. Funny how all of a sudden the way we treat sheep has become an example of negative treatment in our society. What a beautiful irony. It's a real commentary on how our values have changed over time. And it highlights a certain foolishness on our part. Herding people must be as difficult as herding cats, yet we still live in a world where people try to herd other people like sheep. But, like cats, we are pretty difficult to herd. Or are we? The GMs, IBMs, Microsofts, Googles, Apples, Archer-Daniel-Midlands, DeBeers, Wal-Marts et al of the world seem to owe a lot of their success to their ability to get people to herd more like sheep than like cats (or people.) Without this ability, mass marketing would be for naught.
Nevertheless, as I opined 11 years ago, balance is necessary. I've seen many situations where we focus so much attention on the people (the sons) that we forget the livelihood (the sheep.) That's not such a good idea either. The workplace is rife with businesses and institutions following the latest management fad. And, like the good Dilbert-Principle based places they are, they spend all this time on employee morale and treatment and completely forget the product. And how many times have we each found ourselves in a circumstance where we are making decisions that ultimately are good for neither the brothers or the sheep because we are afraid of hurting the brothers' feelings? Most of us (hopefully) have difficulties with having to give someone a negative evaluation, fire them, lay them off. Well, it won't make it any nicer a task, or any easier, but we can learn to take into consideration the needs of the sons and the sheep.- the employee and the company, the doctor and the patient, the customer and the clerk. If the brothers and the sheep aren't a good match for each other, it doesn't make much sense for them to be together.
In our current economic morass, it's easy to blame management or labor, big business or unions, lobbyists or lobbyists (let's face it, even the socially responsible causes need and use lobbyists.) In this case, I'd say we are all part of the problem-and the solution.
When we go out looking after things, we should remember to look after our brothers/sisters and our flocks. It's a good lesson in balance and in perspective. It's a lesson in finding the middle ground that benefits all. I'm sure the sheep and the brothers can be used a metaphors for some aspect of many different situations. I've only cited ones that happen to be on my mind.
This Shabbat, why not look to identify the brothers and the sheep in your life, and teach yourself to look after both. The next time you find the "brothers are most important" camp fighting with the "sheep are the most important camp" why not remind them of the simple lesson this one verse from Torah can teach us.
To all of you and your loved ones a
©2008 by Adrian A. Durlester