As we’ve seen regularly throughout the Torah, the Israelites tend to be pretty slow on the uptake. They don’t make a mistake once and learn from it, and are regularly incapable of even limiting a screwup to two or three times. Instead, they repeatedly ruin things, with short-term memory loss when it comes to consequences. This is no different. “We all went astray like sheep, we have turned, each one on his way, and the Lord accepted his prayers for the iniquity of all of us (Isaiah 53:6).” Again, all of the people have lost their ways, and have gone off in separate directions.
The metaphor being used here, about sheep, is intriguing. When I think about sheep, I think about a flock, moving wherever they’re shepherded. Instead, this visual has the sheep each taking an individual path, rather than remaining with the collective. So this text seems to suggest to me that instead of it being only communal actions that determine whether the people fail or succeed, each of us has our own path to an individual, unique destiny. Each sheep turns and moves in their own way, leading to an eventual end destination that might be totally separate from the rest of the original flock. So, if we’re all on our own trajectories, what keeps us united? Are we still part of the tribe when we’re out on our own? Personally, I think we are. Our origins are a part of us, no matter where we end up, shaping the people (or sheep) that we become.