“The God in whose ways my fathers, Abraham and Isaac walked,
The God who has been my shepherd from my birth to this day —”
Breysheet / Genesis 48:15
This passage from Jacob’s blessing to his grandchildren, Joseph’s sons Efraim and Menasheh, expresses the patriarch’s awareness of his ancestors following divine expectations and then articulates his faith that God has watched over him, enabling to meet the struggles and challenges he faced through his life. This verse also underlies a discussion recorded in the midrash regarding the nature of the shepherd.
Rabbi Berechiya brought these teachings by Rabbi Yochanan and Resh
Lakish. Rabbi Yochanan taught: Like a shepherd who stands and watches
over his flock. Resh Lakish taught: Like a prince who is escorted by a
cortege of elders who herald Him. Rabbi Yochanan was of the opinion that
we were in need of God’s glory whereas Resh Lakish believed that God
requires our glory; focusing alternatively on Israel’s need for God and God’s
need for Israel.
Breysheet / Genesis Rabbah 97:2
The two sages define a polarity within our relationship with God. Ultimately, Jacob’s articulation highlights the reciprocal responsibility of these covenantal partners. Centuries after the midrash Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel restates this idea somewhat controversially when he writes that God needs us as much as we need God.1
‘The mysterious paradox of Biblical faith: God is pursuing man. It is as if
God were unwilling to be alone, and He had chosen man to serve Him. Our
seeking Him is not only man’s, but also His concern, and must not be
considered an exclusively human affair.
Heschel’s assertion requires a new reading of the purpose of creation. Why did God create the entire universe? The answer is so that God, in all God’s sublime holiness, could have companionship. God did not want to be alone, and we are created to be God’s companions. As such, God awaits our recognition of our role in the cosmos and our response to that awareness.
I am here. I, in my own small way, am part of Your great purpose. I need
You as You need me.2
Shabbat Shalom –
Rabbi David M. Eligberg
1 God in Search of Man, Abraham Joshua Heschel, page136.
2 Ibid, page 156
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