|Targum shel Yonoson-Yisro-Inspired by a Cow|
|Written by Rabbi Jonathan Ziskind|
A religious Jew, we’ll call him Chaim, was once traveling by car near an irreligious neighbourhood somewhere in Israel, when the sirens went off. He swerved off the road as quickly as possible, jumped out and took cover. When all was clear, he returned to his car and noticed that in his haste he had knocked over a dog and killed it. Just then a family from the nearby neighbourhood approached in search of their beloved dog. They were distraught and tearful when they realized what had happened. They were angry at Chaim and began berating him for his carelessness. He explained about the siren and that it was a pure accident. He continued to pacify them all the while remaining empathetic and accompanied them to their house nearby.
Realizing what a kind person he was, they invited him in. They expressed their surprise that such a religious Jew was sympathetic to them. And so the subject of religion followed culminating with a request from Noam, the head of the household, that Chaim learn with him once a week. It was agreed. As Noam grew familiar with his Jewish heritage he began to influence some of his neighbours and friends and so he arranged for Chaim to teach a whole class.
Eventually, Noam set up a little Beis Hamedrash (study hall) in the family basement. “So what name will you give to the Beis Hamedrash?” asked Chaim. “Well,” replied Noam, “Our dog was called Igor so we’d like to call it ‘Beis Hamedrash de’Igor’ after him, seeing as he instigated our religious growth.” Chaim was quite surprised. He was not quite sure how appropriate it was to call a Beis Hamedrash after a dog but he also wanted to respect the wishes and the feelings of this wonderful family. So he brought the question to Rabbi Zilberstein.
Rabbi Zilberstein pointed out a saintly individual mentioned in the gemora (Yumo) called Reb Yochonon ben Torto which means Yochonon the son of a cow. Where did he get his name from? The commentaries direct us to a Medrash about a pious Jew who had a cow which he used for ploughing his fields every day except Shabbos. This is in accordance with the posuk in the Ten Commandments mentioned in this week’s parsha that commands us to ensure that our animals also refrain from work on Shabbos. Unfortunately he was hit by hard times and was forced to sell all his possessions including his cow which he sold to a gentile. The cow worked well for the gentile but when Shabbos came along the cow refused to budge. The gentile went to complain to the Jew. The Jew, realizing what the problem was, asked to be taken to the cow and whispered into its ear, “Cow, cow, when you belonged to me you did not have to work on Shabbos but now you belong to a non-Jew, now you need to work even on Shabbos. The cow stood up and was ready to work. “Are you a sorcerer?” asked the non-Jew. “Tell me what you were whispering.” The Jew explained what had transpired.
The non-Jew exclaimed, “If a cow, which does not think and has no understanding, recognizes its creator and knows about Shabbos then I, a human being who has understanding, should definitely recognize my creator. He immediately converted and became a G-d fearing Jew. He is Reb Yochonon ben Torto, Reb Yochonon the son of a cow, because the cow was instrumental in bringing him closer to his Creator.
We may wonder why Reb Yochonon was inspired by the cow. Did the cow really know what Shabbos was? Did the cow really recognize its Creator? A cow hasn’t got free will! Perhaps we can explain as follows. The way humanity behaves effects even the natural surroundings. When people behave in a correct fashion the physical world is uplifted. When people behave in a negative way then negative vibes and negative energies permeate the physical world and the world itself turns bad. Like in the days of Noach where the corrupt actions of mankind caused the animals to stray from the moral path. Even the earth itself was contaminated. The cow which lived with this pious Jew was affected by positive energies and was thereby connected with holiness.
The non-Jew faulted himself for not being sensitive to what was going on around him. If a cow is affected by his surroundings then he, a human, should definitely be susceptible to the spiritual vibes in the universes. He should have been inspired by the Jews around him. He should have been inspired by creation, for the universe itself is testimony to a creator. If only he would have let them. This non-Jew realized that he wasn’t being sensitive enough and had tuned himself out to what was going on around him.
We, ourselves, may go through many a Shabbos and miss the spiritual energies of the day. Sometimes we’re just thankful to have a day off from the tumult of the week when we can rest and tune out a bit, eat a good dinner, pack in a few hours of sleep and Shabbos is over- but we may have missed out on the Shabbos vibes. Perhaps if we achieve a little more “Shabbos awareness” we can connect to the electricity of the day.
It is said, “One who prepares for Shabbos shall eat on Shabbos.” This is said in connection with cooked food but it applies to other aspects of Shabbos as well. We can prepare table talk. We can learn up and familiarize ourselves about the week’s parsha. If we read up an interesting story or a practical halachic question then our discussion at the table will be stimulating. Some people learn one halacha of Shabbos at the table. Another suggestion is to be ready a while before Shabbos begins so that we enter into it with serenity and forethought. The way we approach the Shabbos will determine our feelings towards it and what we can get out of it. A gutten Shabbos