Can a Sheep Identify as an Ox?

Friday, 2 December, 2022 - 2:03 pm

Sheep play an outsized role in the life of our forefather, Yaakov. First, he works as a shepherd for 20 years. Then his pay comes in the form of speckled, spotted, and ringed sheep. The Torah tells us that his abundant sheep made him a very wealthy man. Then he uses his sheep to barter for a more diversified portfolio of assets, such as oxen, donkeys, servants, and maids. However, despite his wealth being wrapped up in a sheep-centered income base, when representing his assets to his brother, Esav, he tells him, “I have oxen, donkeys, sheep, servants, and maids.” All of a sudden, the sheep are demoted to third place in his portfolio.

Why the initial obsession with sheep, and why the switch in his conversation with Esav?

Everything Yaakov did, reflected his spiritual state. The nature of a sheep is to be docile and demure. In the service of G-d, this represents humility. In our relationship with G-d, humility is the key component to success. When you recognize that you are small and insignificant, that opens you up to the greatest infusion of Divine energy. With and through that infusion of humility fueled Divine energy, you can diversify your spiritual portfolio to incorporate other forms of service that develop your personal strengths in many aspects of life. These diverse aspects are represented by the assets that Yaakov acquired by bartering his sheep. The gateway to this successful diversification always remains the attribute of humility.

When confronting Esav, who might confuse humility with weakness, Yaakov assumes a personality affectation of an aggressive ox combined with an obstinate donkey. Lest he forget his truth, and allow the assumed personality to slide into permanence, the docile sheep are right there at number three to help keep him real.

There are times in life, when we must slip into a role that is out of character. To achieve a purpose, we may find ourselves acting in a way that is more aggressive that we would care to be. How do we ensure that this does not become our new identity? How can we guarantee that we are employing this anomaly solely for a just cause? What will assure us that when the task is accomplished, we can remove the garments of the ox? This can be done centering ourselves around our true sheep-like nature of humility before Hashem. This enables us to keep things real!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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