Our Shepherd Knows Us

Yael Eckstein  |  September 14, 2023

A shepherd walking in the desert with a walking stick.

He tends his flock like a shepherd:
    He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
    he gently leads those that have young
. — Isaiah 40:11

At sundown on Friday, Sept. 15, my family will join Jews around the world in celebrating Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. My devotions focus on this very holy day, a time when our attention is on repentance and starting afresh.

One of the most basic human desires is to be known. We long for others to recognize us, to listen to us, and to accept us for who we are—flaws and faults included. Yet, how many of us can say we have truly and completely experienced that?

The Unetanneh Tofek, one of the most stirring and beautiful compositions in the traditional Rosh Hashanah liturgy, is a celebration and acknowledgement of the One who not only fully knows us, but who also desires to have a relationship with us and draw us to Himself.

This prayer, which tradition says was written by a rabbi from Mayence (Mainz) in the 11th century, portrays God as a shepherd over His flock, counting and examining each sheep one by one as it passes under His rod.

And while this time of judgment is approached by all—including the angels—with fear and trembling, the prayer affirms the central theme of the High Holy Days: “You do not desire the guilty one’s death, but that he turn from his way and live.”

Our Shepherd Knows Us

And while the shepherd examines and judges each of his flock, the imagery also suggests a shepherd who deals with his flock gently and tenderly because he knows his flock. As the prayer continues, “Verily you are their Creator and you know their inner drives; they are but flesh and blood.”

The psalmist affirms this thought: “From heaven the LORD looks down and sees all mankind; from his dwelling place he watches all who live on earth—he who forms the hearts of all, who considers everything they do” (Psalm 33:13–15).

Our Shepherd knows us. He created us, and He understands our frailties and our inclination toward sinfulness. Yet despite this, as we have seen expressed throughout the celebration of Rosh Hashanah, God accepts us and loves us. He is eager to extend His mercy and forgiveness to us as we turn toward Him and repent.

Your Turn:

Today, come before our Shepherd and bask in His love, His mercy, and His forgiveness.