A Shepherd's Parable

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Twenty-five years ago, I was a volunteer on an Israeli kibbutz. I was given the job of shepherding a flock of sheep one day amongst the rocky pastures of the Galilee. I was supplied a shepherd's staff and a dog that had been trained by the local Bedouin Arabs to respond to Hebrew commands.

Off I went into the hills with my staff, dog and 300 sheep feeling somewhat archaic and ridiculous. I must confess, shepherding sheep -- at least for a one-day stint -- wasn't all that demanding. There was a lot of watching and grazing, and not just by the sheep. The novelty soon wore off and I got bored.

Mid-day I was told to move the flock to another field across a narrow road to prevent over-grazing. That was when things got interesting. "GareshYamina!" "Drive them right!" I shouted and the dog shot off like a bullet. Amazingly enough, he drove the sheep to the right.

However, he chased them too far. "GareshS'molah!" "Drive them left!" Off the dog and the sheep went to the left -- but again, too far.

Left and right I drove them for 20 minutes. But I could not get them where they needed to go -- across the road. Frustrated, I abandoned my efforts and wandered over to the new field to scout an easier route. As I stood there pondering this problem, I glanced back and was flabbergasted to see all 300 sheep cascading over the dividing road, down into the new field, following me.


While I couldn't force the sheep into the new field ahead of me, they willingly followed me there because I went first. I was struck with the clichéd truth of how easy it was to lead them "like a flock of sheep." But I had to be willing to go first, to do not just to tell, to lead not just to point.

I think a lot about that story when I think about a presidential election year and the choice of leadership we will make. I do judge political leaders on their personal experience. I care about their direct understanding of issues important to me. And mostly, I notice whether they lead from the front, or issue directions from behind.

With a Perspective, I'm Daniel Kohn.

Daniel Kohn is a rabbi and teacher at the Contra Costa Jewish Day School in Lafayette.