July 10, 2023 | Israel | Sermon | Spiritual

Sermon – In Need of Shepherds – Israel in Prayer

By Adir Glick

I was just in Israel. A nation going through tremendous upheaval.

There was this moment in my first few days. We went to see a concert of a celebrated singer of piyyutim, Sephardic religious melodies. She came on and she was struggling. She said it was not easy for her to come do a concert tonight. She was being completely transparent. She was feeling the state of the country. She was so very worried. The deep divisions. The effect of all of it. Domestic violence is increasing. Homes broken. The whole country falling apart… life had become unaffordable amidst all the tension already there. Everything she loved was in danger. Everybody she knew was on edge. It was as if the endeavor that people like her parents and so many others had given everything over and held together with every ounce of their being was unravelling into chaos and despair with no hope for the future.

She said, “I’m sorry for being so negative.” Obviously, many in the crowd knew her and they began to shout to her, “We love you. Let’s have some joy.” Some simchah. She said, “We must really pray, all of us pray like on Yom Kippur for Israel, we all have to pray together. For peace for healing.” She started to lead us in a prayer.

I heard it many times there, people sharing how worried they were and angry at the other side. They were destroying the incredible project and dream of the country they loved.

It is not easy to keep such a project alive. Once it has gone down the wrong way, one easily loses vision.

We see in our parashah when God turns to Moses to confirm that he would not be the leader going forward leading the people into Israel. Moses knew his own dream was gone. But what he is worried about was not himself.

Ve-yedaber Moshe el Ado-nai l’emor. Moses said to God, speaking.

Usually in the Torah, we find the opposite, God speaking to Moses. Here, Moses turns to God to say a few words.

“Let the Lord, Source of the breath of all flesh, appoint someone over the community who shall go out before them and come in before them, and who shall take them out and bring them in, so that the Lord’s community may not be like sheep that have no shepherd.”

Moses was worried about his people. He had worked so hard for them to be a people living up to the Torah, to being a light unto the nations, a kingdom of priests. What would happen after he was gone? He knew how easily it could all disappear. Who would be able to do it?

There is a Hassidic story of a time when a great master passed away, and the Hassidim were struggling how to keep alive their community, the spirit that was so unique going and powerful. Who would be their leader?

One of the students, Simcha Bunim told a story of a shepherd who led his flock with a faithful heart and a diligent hand. Who guided them in green pastures and leads them by still waters… like in psalm 23. Who went looking for the lost ones and brought back the far flung.

One day, he lay down on the grass tired and sleep grabbed him. At midnight he woke up and all his sheep were gone. A great fear came over him, and he shouted, “Where are the sheep of my flock?” He paced back and forth before he saw the sheep crowding together one next to the other. He counted them and they were all there. He stood and cried, “Master of all the worlds! In my days, I never had to worry about such a thing. Now, what shall I pay you and how shall I thank you for this great act of loving kindness? I swear to you that if you also entrust Your sheep in my hands, I will surely watch over them with all my capabilities, with the pupils of my eyes, like these sheep, because I love you.”

When you have a miracle of having something incredible you do anything to keep it. You know it takes all your care and love to keep it precious. You will do anything not to lose it. You realize that it is only with that love of the other, only with shepherds with that care for the going out and the coming back that it will all survive. Without that, careless or bad intentioned shepherds can make the whole thing collapse.

A great teacher once defined a life of spirit as swimming against the current. It is hard enough to swim or row against the current. When your own fellows are puncturing your boat, it renders you exasperated, hopeless.

I remember years ago when I was in rabbinical school, we had a Tanakh/ Bible class where we went through the whole of Nach, Prophets and Writings, the last two sections of the Bible.

As we studied through the first book of prophets, judges, we discussed that very dark time for Israel right after they conquered the land. The refrain that is emblematic of that book, “In those days there was no king in Israel, everyone did whatever seemed right in their own eyes.” It was a time of chaos and of painful and widespread moral and spiritual degradation and pain. But a king was also not what God wanted for Israel either.

After Judges in the book of Samuel, when the people ask the prophet Samuel for a king, the prophet Samuel, in a powerful scene, with miraculous thunder and rain in the middle of the summer, proclaims do you really want to be like all other people? Do you really want a king? He will take your sons and your daughter and your crops.

God wanted something else.

Not a king like all other nations. Not chaos either.

Maybe this is the time for us to find out what it is that is wanted from us. What is our fate going to be? How can we take our project and dream forward? Where is the way forward even as it all looks to be breaking apart?

In the absence of a shepherd like Moses who cares for the going in and going outs, we all need to become shepherds who care for the other. We all need to uphold the moral, ethical, and spiritual high ground, and refuse to listen to those that tell us to compromise our values, saying, this is what all the people do.

This period of the three weeks leading to Tisha b’Av is about understanding how precious it is to hold onto a miracle. The miracle of a House where God’s presence dwells. The miracle of an aspirational life of goodness and values. A nation swimming ‘up current’.

It takes all our joint efforts to keep it protected and alive. With our voice, our hearts, and our feet.

When the singer heard the people, the crowd, call out to her, she started to change. She began to sing Sephardic and Mizrachi weddings songs. Everybody began to clap and dance together. We can do it. We will do it. We will pray and march and work together to keep our country a moral and spiritual beacon that is safe, vital, and strong.

Adir Glick


Rabbi Adir Glick began his tenure at Temple Har Zion in August, 2015.