The Baal Shem Tov was once shown from heaven that a certain simple man called Moshe the Shepherd served G‑d, blessed be He, better than he did. He longed to meet this shepherd, so he ordered his horses harnessed to his coach, and traveled, with a few of his disciples, to the place where he was told the shepherd lived.
They stopped in a field at the foot of a hill, and saw, on the hillside above them, a shepherd who was blowing his horn to call his flock. After the sheep gathered to him, he led them to a nearby trough to water them. While they were drinking, he looked up to heaven and began to call out loudly, “Master of the world, You are so great! You created heaven and earth, and everything else! I’m a simple man; I’m ignorant and unlearned, and I don’t know how to serve You or praise You. I was orphaned as a child and raised among gentiles, so I never learned any Torah. But I can blow on my shepherd’s horn like a shofar, with all my strength, and call out, ‘The L-rd is G‑d!’” After blowing with all his might on the horn, he collapsed to the ground, without an ounce of energy, and lay there motionless until his strength returned.
Then he got up and said, “Master of the world, I’m just a simple shepherd; I don’t know any Torah, and I don’t know how to pray. What can I do for You? The only thing I know is to sing shepherds’ songs!” He then began to sing loudly and fervently with all his strength until, again, he fell to the earth, exhausted, without an ounce of energy.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. –Deuteronomy 6:5 (ESV)
Buxbaum goes on to describe the shepherd’s further efforts to love and please God, some which may sound almost ludicrous, such as standing on his head and waving his feet wildly in the air, but we can learn a lesson from this shepherd and this tale of the Baal Shem Tov.
In all likelihood, no such shepherd ever existed and God never showed the Baal Shem Tov how to find him, but that’s not the point. The point is to learn something about us and about God and about how we’re supposed to connect our lives to Him. That’s what Chassidic tales are all about.
In our tale, the shepherd, who God tells the Baal Shem Tov worships Him better than the venerated Chassidic sage, is a Jew who was raised among Gentiles and who has absolutely no grasp of Torah, Talmud, or even the most basic understanding of halachah. He has no formal education in any of the mitzvot and although the shepherd knows he is to honor, worship, and give glory to God, he doesn’t know the first thing about how a Jew is supposed accomplish this.
Interesting, isn’t it.
This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t study and learn and strive to comprehend what God expects of us, but the information seems to be secondary to the desire, the will, and the intent of the person in worship. Moshe the Shepherd knew nothing but in a sense, he knew everything. He knew to take care of his sheep just as shepherds such as Moshe the Prophet, David the King, and our “good shepherd” Jesus the Rabbi knew how to take care of their sheep, even to the point of laying down their lives.
Moshe the Shepherd called to his sheep by blowing his horn which he compared to a shofar, and since the sheep responded by going to him, it shows he had certainly earned their trust. He gathered his sheep and watered them, and while watering them, cried out to God, blew his horn for Him, sang shepherd’s songs for Him, acknowledged God’s might and glory in the loudest voice he could muster, and he did all this with such zeal and energy that he collapsed, exhausted upon the ground.
And after seeing Moshe the Shepherd do this over and over again to the point of total collapse, we reach the dramatic conclusion of our tale:
What more can I do to serve You?” After pausing to reflect, he said, “Yesterday, the nobleman who owns the flock made a feast for his servants, and when it ended, he gave each of us a silver coin. I’m giving that coin to You as a gift, O G‑d, because You created everything and You feed all Your creatures, including me, Moshe the little shepherd!” Saying this, he threw the coin upward.
At that moment, the Baal Shem Tov saw a hand reach out from heaven to receive the coin. He said to his disciples, “This shepherd has taught me how to fulfill the verse: ‘You shall love the L‑rd your G‑d with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might.’”
What does God want from you? The answer is amazingly simple:
He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? –Micah 6:8 (ESV)
Without studying the Bible, Moshe the Shepherd knew what pleased God and he worshiped and pleased God with all his strength. How much more should we who study the Bible know and then do what pleases God. But do we try to please Him with all our might as did Moshe the Shepherd?
Torah is not about getting to the truth. When you are immersed in Torah, even while pondering the question, even while struggling to make sense of it all, you are at truth already.
Torah is about being truth.
-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson