This week’s portion contains the familiar story the Akeidah – the binding of Isaac –in which Abraham nearly sacrifices Isaac, stopping just in time thanks to the intervention of an angel. The Torah teaches that just after that moment, Abraham lifts his eyes and sees a ram, caught in a thicket by its horn, and he sacrifices that ram in place of Isaac. To remember that ram, we blow the shofar, the ram’s horn, during the month of Elul and at the High Holy Days. 

Sheep play an incredibly important role in Jewish tradition. Our patriarchs were all shepherds; one midrash teaches that Moses encountered the burning bush because he was chasing after a lamb that had separated from the flock. Later in the book of Exodus, we will see lambs figure prominently again - during the tenth plague, sheep were sacrificed so that the Angel of Death would pass over the homes of the Jews. We remember this each time we point to the shank bone on our seder plates. 

Most of us will never have the chance to add ‘shepherd’ to our CVs, but we can still honour our long history of caring for sheep. As the weather turns cooler, I use the opportunity to change my light silk tallit for a heavier wool tallit. By wrapping myself in my wool tallit, I remember the relationships forged between my ancestors and their flocks. Though I’ll never experience life as they did – uncomplicated by technology – I can at least honour the connection between people and animals that is beautifully represented in the threads of my tallit.