Sheep and Thinkers

A conversation I overheard during Simchas Torah.

“I can’t believe how much chesed there is in your community. I’ve been to a number of different communities and I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“That’s because there are kiruv rabbis here who have devoted themselves to bringing Jews back to the fold. There is a lot of young fresh enthusiastic leadership here.
However, there are a lot of ‘sheep’. There’s just starting now to be some ‘thinkers’.”

I didn’t finish the conversation because I wanted to down the bourbon and get back to the dancing. But the brief thought struck me as an important principle that underlies a lot of communities. Who are the sheep and who are the thinkers?

In order for Judaism to survive there needs to be the ability to continue what was already started. Sheep, a word not usually used as a compliment, in the context of Torah Judaism is a necessity. If everyone is a leader then nothing gets done. The Sefer HaChinuch points out the need to have one leader even if that leader is making mistakes! Because without a leader you have anarchy. You have several Torot, not one Torah.

This was exemplified by Yitzchak who imitated everything his father Avraham did. He looked like him. He had two kids, one on the path, one off. He pretended his wife was his sister. He redug the wells his father dug. Why didn’t he have his own unique identity? Because that WAS his identity. He was the pillar that continued in his father’s footsteps, that created a people of God. Abraham made many students. Where are they? They didn’t have the ability like Yitzchak did to continue what Avraham started.


We are in golus. Our communities are not perfect. We have many flaws. It often takes a fresh look, or an objective look at things to notice the flaws. Sure we need sheep, but we also need thinkers. We need people that are going to fight for the practical issues that are causing problems in our communities, and for the spiritual issues that are plaguing our communities.

Nothing is an accident. The BTs have the benefit of objectivity that can help a community grow.

But only if they are thinkers.

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10 comments on “Sheep and Thinkers

  1. Maybe not. Maybe our Mitzvahs are fleece and the eating represents our mesiras nefesh

  2. Sheep in the analogy of G-d and His people, not in the context of “sheep” versus thinkers in a community.

  3. Nice points. However, it’s inappropriate to be thinking of or speaking about people as “sheep”. A Torah Jew who follows da’as Torah and seeks the guidance of his teachers cannot and should not be described as a “sheep”. Neil’s quote struck a chord with me. To add to that, at times it also takes a real thinker to be a proper follower.

  4. A few months ago my neighbor, shared with me a very interesting quote he had heard:
    “At times it takes as much strength to be follower as it does to be a leader.”
    To follow daad Torah doen’t not automatically make one a ‘sheep’.

  5. We all have moments when we have to lead or follow. If no one ever takes direction, there is no way to lead.

    One downside of the Jewish blog world (Beyond BT and some others excluded!) is its frequent use to deride any form of Torah authority.

  6. In the Hoshanah that begins with Om Ani Choma one of the paeans to the Jewish People is Tzon Kodoshim= “Holy Sheep”. This is pretty unambiguous.

    Less so is the earlier paean of V’nechsheves k’Tzon Tivcha= “and they are reckoned as sheep to the slaughter”. This imagery took on a terrible symbolism during the Holocaust when it became synonymous with the charge that the martyrs were complicit in their own destruction. Still, by dint of its inclusion in Om Ani Choma I think the inescapable conclusion is that the liturgical poet, and hence mainstream Jewish hashqafa, considers it a positive attribute.

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