In my poor townsman's understanding, confirmed by the scriptures, both sheep (צאן) and cattle (בקר) need shepherding, as it says (Exodus.34.3):

"וְאִישׁ לֹא־יַעֲלֶה עִמָּךְ וְגַם־אִישׁ אַל־יֵרָא בְּכָל־הָהָר גַּם־הַצֹּאן וְהַבָּקָר אַל־יִרְעוּ אֶל־מוּל הָהָר הַהוּא׃"

However, starting with Abel, our forefathers are consistently called sheep shepherds (רועי צאן), for example, Jacob, Moses, David all called רועי צאן despite the fact that they owned cattle.

Why are the forefathers called רועי צאן and never רועי בקר?

For the full list see "רועה צאן" on Sefaria.

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    I suppose in English there's not much distinction, but sheep needs shepherds and cattle needs herdsman. These are two distinct professions, and I assume our forefathers were simply more known for being shepherds, because they had more sheep or whatever. (In my native language there are three different words for a herdsman working with cattle, sheep and pigs, and they had different social status in their respective order.) Jan 28, 2022 at 11:27
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    "the fact that all of them had cattle" How do we know that?
    – Double AA
    Jan 28, 2022 at 14:19
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    Are you asking a theological or linguistic-semantic question?
    – rosends
    Jan 28, 2022 at 14:24
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    @DoubleAA Avraham ואל הבקר רץ אברהם Yitzchak ויהי לו מקנה צאן ומקנה בקר Yaakov והצאן והבקר עלות עלי
    – Heshy
    Jan 28, 2022 at 19:06
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    @Heshy which of them are called only רועה צאן? (Plausibly some, but tracking who is called what and who had what is clearly an important part of this question.)
    – Double AA
    Jan 28, 2022 at 19:09

1 Answer 1


Tzo'n, "small cattle," alludes to the "holy limbs" who are Yisrael - see TZ #19 below. The Tzaddik and Avot, particularly the Seven Shepherds Abraham through David are shepherds caring for the tzo'n.

In Eze. 34 the leaders of Yisrael are called ro'im/shepherds, and they are chewed out for usurping and not caring for the tzo'n, the flock Yisrael. In contrast, the soul of Moshe Rabbeinu commenting in the Zohar is called Ra'aya Meheimna, the Faithful/Trusty Shepherd.

And OTOH the large cattle, the Egel ben Bakar, and Parah, are associated with the respective Lower and Upper Shekhinah and with the left side/Gevurah, the Shor/bull in the Merkabah (Eze. 1 and see TZ daf 48b for example: ועוד שכינתא תתאה איהי עגלה ערופה, ומסטרא דפרה שור, ודא איהו ופני שור מהשמאל, ומסטרא דעגלה, עגל בן בקר לחטאת, ופרה ודאי אתקריאת שכינתא עלאה כד נטלת מן גבורה, ושכינתא תתאה עגלה כד נטילת מניה:). Or in other places Shor represents Esau (and Chamor Yishmael - Deut. 22 and commentaries).

Tikunei Zohar #19:

(daf 38a) BeReAShYT - contains B"T, and that Bat ("daughter"/Malkhut) the hidden point in the air, of her it's said (Ps. 17:8), "Guard me like the pupil of the eye" ... (daf 38b) ... (Song 4:12) "A locked gal/spring" - gal is like galgal/sphere. It hints that inside it is "...a sealed source" which is Yud. So immediately (Gen. 29:7) "water the tzo'n/sheep" - which are the "holy limbs," for it's said of them (Eze. 34:31), "And ye are My flock, the flock (TzANY TzAN) of My shepherding (mar'iti), you are man (and not like animals in My eyes - Rashi)."
They [the Seven Shepherds, alluded in seven letters of TzANY TzAN] are all shepherds, and Moshe is the top one over them, as it's written (Ex. 2), "And he sat above the well," and the scripture (Ps. 90), "Prayer [attributed] to [i.e., is assembled like the parts of the Mishkan by (see Likutei Moharan #2)] Moshe, Ish ha-ELHY"M" etc. - he rules over the seven RKY`AIN/firmaments - (A) tzadik is RKYA/"firmament," that divides between "waters" and "waters" ...

תקונא תשסרי: בראשית תמן ב"ת, והאי בת נקודה סתימא באוירא, עלה אתמר שמרני כאישון בת עין, ... דאיהי י' דנפיק מגו אוירא דכיא, דאיהו כתר עלאה, (daf 38b) ... גל נעול גל איהו כמו גלגל, איהו רמיז דביה מעין חתום דאיהי י', ומיד השקו הצאן דאינון אברין קדישין, דאתמר בהון ואתן צאני צאן מרעיתי אדם אתם, כלהו רועים, ומשה על כלהון, דכתיב (שמות ב') וישב על הבאר, וכתיב (תהלים צ') תפלה למשה איש האלקי"ם וכו', איהו שלטנותיה בשבעה רקיעין: צדיק איהי רקיע דפליג בין מיא למיא, בין ים עלאה דאיהי אימא עלאה, ובין ים תתאה דאיהי אימא תתאה, ועליה אתמר אין בין מים עליונים למים התחתונים אלא כמלא נימא, כמה דאוקמוהו מארי מתניתין, והאי נימא איהו צדיק, ולאו למגנא אוקמוהו קדמאין, דקודשא בריך הוא מדקדק עם הצדיקים אפילו כחוט השערה:

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