A project of Bar-Ilan University's Faculty of Jewish Studies, Paul and Helene Shulman Basic Jewish Studies Center, and the Office of the Campus Rabbi. Sponsored by Dr. Ruth Borchard of the Shoresh Charitable Fund (SCF).
Permission granted to reprint with appropriate credit.
Inquiries and comments to: Dr. Isaac Gottlieb, Department of Bible, firstname.lastname@example.org
On Leaders and Shepherds
Department of Bible
This weeks reading mentions that Moses tended Jethros flock in the wilderness (Ex. 3:1). The shepherd motif re- appears when Moses produces water out of a rock to quench the thirst of the Israelites (Num. 20:1-14, esp. the phrase, vehishkita et ha-eda [20:8] provide drink for the congregation), and again when Joshua is appointed leader, as we read in Numbers 27:17: so that the Lords community may not be like sheep that have no shepherd.
In later generations, Moses was explicitly thought of as a shepherd, as in Isaiah 63:11, "Where is He that brought them up out of the sea, with the shepherds of His flock?" and Psalms 77:21: You led Your people like a flock in the care of Moses and Aaron.
The shepherd motif continues after Moses, appearing in other biblical stories of kings and prophets. We are told that Saul was just coming from the field driving the cattle (I Sam. 11:5ff), and David started out as a shepherd, as we read in I Samuel 16:19 and 17:15. Indeed, in II Samuel 7:8 the Lord says to David, I took you from the pasture, from following the flock. Elisha plowed with twelve yoke of oxen before being appointed Elijahs successor (I Kings 19:19-21), and Amos said, the Lord took me away from behind the flock (Am. 7:15).
Exodus Rabbah 2.2 (Shinan ed., pp. 105-106) explains that through shepherding the flock the Lord establishes whether a person is worthy to be chosen for a special task in the life of the people:
This legend shows how dedicated and devoted Moses was to his task, traits that characterized him also as leader of the Israelites in Egypt and in the wilderness.
The significance of the shepherd motif among the leaders of the Israel is discussed by Don Isaac Abarbanel in his commentary on Amos 7:15:
Israels shepherds and leaders were all people who tended the flock, as we see from the Patriarchs, Moses, and David; this is to show that the art of shepherding is similar to leading a people.
The image of leader as shepherd also appears in Jeremiah and Ezekiel. These prophets used the shepherd motif to describe leaders who did not perform their duty properly. Jeremiah accuses the kings of Judah of causing dispersal of the people (compared to sheep), and compares G-d to a shepherd who will gather the dispersed people together and provide them faithful shepherds (Jer. 23:1-4). Likewise, Ezekiel speaks of the shepherds of Israel who ignored the peoples suffering, abandoning them and causing them to be scattered for want of anyone to tend them (Ezek. 34:5). The prophet promises that in the future G-d will tend the people in good grazing land (v. 14), i.e., will gather Israel in from exile.
A particularly strong analogy can be found between two shepherds: Moses and David. The analogy begins in Chronicles. Both Moses and David are referred to as the man of G-d (Deut. 33:1; Neh. 12:24, 36; II Chron. 8:14); both Moses and David led the people for forty years (Sam. 7:7; Deut. 31:2; 34:7; I Kings 2:11); Davids preparations for building the Temple call to mind Moses preparations for erecting the Tabernacle (cf. Ex. 35:4-29 and I Chron. 28:11ff).
The parallels between Moses and David are also brought out in legends of the Sages, as we see in Midrash Tehillim 1.2 (Buber ed., p. 3):
The homilists point here is to elevate David to the level of Moses. The homily is based on the fact that both of them started out as shepherds and continued as faithful guardians of the flock, and also on the analogy between them that is drawn in Chronicles. This comparison opens the way for the homilist to search Scripture, in order to show further similarities between them.
 Such legends may have been the source for Philo of Alexandria saying that Moses was a king, selected by G-d for his role by virtue of his character and way of life. It is interesting that Philo makes no mention of the Davidic dynasty. The reason is apparently that Philo viewed Moses as the archetypical ruler over Israel, whose main role has to do with adjudication. Cf. S. Abramsky, Malkhut Shaul u-Malkhut David, Jerusalem 1937, p. 14. In contrast, see ibid., pp. 25-26, note 35, which cites legends of the Sages that indicate that Moses was not appointed to be a king. For a comprehensive discussion of the figure of Moses in biblical literature, see W. A. Meeks, The Prophet-King, Leiden 1967.
The weekly Torah portion is distributed with the assistance of the President's Fund for Torah and Science.