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B'resheet/Genesis 37:12 And his brothers went to pasture the flock of their father in Shechem
In the Torah scrolls, the word in this verse has a dot written above each letter. According to the manuscript tradition, this is a way of marking scribal mistakes in a non-erasable medium - by putting dots over letters or words, the proof-reader would indicate that they should not be present in the text. Nevertheless, both this word and its annotation are preserved in theMasoretic Text. The function of the word is to denote that what follows is the direct object of the (usually) preceding verb, and in this verse its purpose is to link "the flock of their father" to "pasture". But what if it were absent? What then would the brothers be going to pasture? Rashi suggests that the brothers went to Shechem to pasture themselves! We read earlier in the parasha (37:2) that Yosef had already cast doubts upon the brothers' dedication as shepherds and here they were, setting off out of father's sight and control, ostensibly to pasture the sheep, but quite possibly to pasture themselves - take it easy, have a lazy time and a few laughs - while paying a little cursory attention to the sheep. Even their father Ya'akov is suspicious, sending Yosef after them to see what they are really up to, and asking for a report on their activities.
Early in the book of Isaiah, he draws a picture of a vineyard and workers, representing the house of Y'hudah and Yisra'el.HaShem had built and planted the vineyard with the expectation of a harvest. "What more was there to do for My vineyard that I have not done in it? Why, when I expected it to produce good grapes did it produce worthless ones?" (Isaiah 5:4, NASB) Over the rest of the chapter, the prophet highlights ways in which the men of Y'hudah and Yisra'el in those days had pastured themselves rather than pasturing G-d's people. Building on the same passage, Yeshua also spoke of a man who "planted a vineyard and put a wall around it" (Mark 12:1, NASB). Once the vineyard was let out to tenants, the owner set off for a journey, expecting a return in his investment. But here again, once out of sight and effective control of the owner, the workers are seeking their own profit and comfort, even to the extent of killing the owner's son: "This is the heir; come, let us kill him and the inheritance will be ours!" (Mark 12:7, NASB)
Does this idea also speak to us? G-d doesn't always seem to be paying attention to what we are doing and, as the Psalmist notes on many occasions, the wicked seem to be getting away with everything they do. We should be both challenged and comforted by the assurance that G-d does see everything and nothing escapes His notice. As Rav Sha'ul writes: "Do not be deceived, G-d is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap" (Gal 6:7, NASB). G-d sees and is interested in the smallest things we do and is always ready to share our confidences with us and encourage us.
Further Study: Matthew 7:21-23; Job 13:7-9
Application: If the prospect of Yeshua turning up in your home or work place today and watching what you do and say is disturbing, perhaps it would be a good idea to talk this through with Him sooner rather than later.
© Jonathan Allen, 2004
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