Renowned Israeli kabbalist Rabbi Amram Vakhnin arrived at the new home of Jacob’s Sheep in Nes Harim on Sunday where he blessed the flock in a deeply moving ceremony.
Rabbi Vakhnin was overcome with joy as he picked up each sheep, held them close and kissed them on the cheeks. The animals clearly enjoyed the attention and were drawn to the rabbi, crowding around the mystic.
After an emotional meeting, a very special ceremony took place. Gil and Jenna Lewinsky, the couple responsible for bringing the ancestral flock home to Israel, gathered all the sheep in front of the rabbi. Spreading a tallit (prayer shawl) over Rabbi Vakhnin, the group held each corner of the sacred garment resembling a wedding canopy.
From underneath the tallit, the rabbi blessed the sheep that in the merit of the patriarch Jacob, the sheep will be fruitful and multiply.
“Jacob’s spiritual wealth came from his sheep,” explained Gil. “The more Jacob’s sheep fill the land, the more blessing will come to Israel.”
Rabbi Vakhnin then revealed to the Lewinsky’s that now the sheep are in their ancestral homeland, the couple is permitted by Torah to earn money from their wool and milk. But, warned the rabbi, it is prohibited to sell them for their meat. Further, the couple’s main purpose and God-given task is to increase the herd until the sheep fill the Land of Israel. Gil explained to Breaking Israel News how he understood this.
“The sheep are for the Jews what the buffalo were for the Native Americans, but we forgot this” explained Gil to Breaking Israel News. “Not only do we use their milk and meat for food, but their skin is used to make Torah scrolls, their horns make shofars (horns blown for ritual purposes), and their wool is used to make tzitzit (ritual fringes). When the Torah tells us to bring sheep for a sacrifice in the Temple, these are the [very animals] it is speaking about.”
The Lewinsky’s have been battling bureaucracy, struggling for years to return the sheep and at one point, nearly gave up. On a trip to Israel last year, while searching for a home for their flock they met with Rabbi Vakhnin, a noted kabbalist. The rabbi gave them a blessing for success in their mission and told them the sheep were very dear to him. Gil and Jenna Lewinsky’s dream of returning to their ancestral homeland, reuniting Israel with the ancestral flock, finally came true in early December, and they attribute their improbable success to the kabbalist’s blessing.
Originating in Canada, 119 sheep traveled 2,100 miles in thunder and rain from Vancouver to Toronto by truck, where they sat in quarantine for four months before being allowed to fly to Israel. The first of eleven flights landed six weeks ago, but the sheep still needed to sit in Israeli quarantine. Though this short stopover should have been the easiest part of the journey, it proved to be the most difficult test.
The search for a home became desperate. A former ostrich farm they found in southern Israel had minimal structures for both the flock and its shepherds. Surrounded by the harsh desert, wolves and jackals circled the camp at night, drawn by the smell of the flock. There was barely enough drinking water, and the generator provided just two hours of electricity a day. When the region was hit with fierce rainstorms, the structures collapsed and the sheep, already stressed from travelling around the globe, suffered. Five sheep died, including Solomon, one of the oldest rams.
Luckily, the Lewinsky’s discovered Nes Harim (in English, miracle of the mountains), a community five miles west of Jerusalem. Despite the numerous battles they had to face, the couple expressed their confidence that this must be prophecy come true:
My people hath been lost sheep; their shepherds have caused them to go astray, they have turned them away on the mountains; they have gone from mountain to hill, they have forgotten their resting-place. Jeremiah 50:6
The sheep have traveled across the world and back again, searching for their shepherd on two continents. Genetic tests have shown that this breed is originally from the Middle East, and Rabbi Vakhnin told the Lewinsky’s that he knew these sheep were descended from Jacob’s original flock. Jacob’s sheep have returned and it is time for the blessing they bring to be revealed.