In this week’s Torah reading, Jacob learns he has lost his beloved son, Joseph. The text tells us that Jacob, believing that wild beasts had devoured his son, refuses to be consoled. According to a midrash, Jacob reminded God, “When I guarded the flocks of Lavan, I did not lose a single sheep to wild beasts.” Jacob’s grief was compounded by frustration that God had let him down. He, Jacob, had been an attentive shepherd. Where was God, the shepherd we all count on, when Joseph was in need of protection? God, it seems, is less of a shepherd than Jacob.
Theologians try to discern God’s inscrutable ways. Jacob’s dismay poses a new question. Why can’t God seem to better understand us? We struggle conscientiously to be good shepherds for our flocks. We strive to be reliable and establish a record of success. It is frustrating when our efforts go unreciprocated. God wants Jacob to be consoled. Jacob wants to be understood.
Rabbi Mitch Levine