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Story: Parshat D'varim 5780

07/29/2020 09:52:15 AM


Rabbi Charlie

To see the recording of Rabbi Charlie's story, click HERE.

Shabbat Shalom!

This week begins the book of Deuteronomy, D’varim in Hebrew, which means, “words.” These words mostly consist of a series of speeches that Moses delivers. These speeches are sometimes personal, sometimes poetic, and filled with meaning. It reminds us of the significance of our own words, which leads me to this beautiful story:

There was once a shepherd who loved God. He couldn’t read or write, never had a chance for an education. As he would graze his sheep, he would make up his own prayers. One day he might offer, “Dear Master of the Universe, today I shear my sheep, and their wool is soft and warm. I wish I could take the wool and weave a cloak for You and carry it up to the place where You sit. It would just be a small thank you for the sun You send down to warm me every day of my life, for Your generosity is in every sunbeam.” The shepherd never said a prayer in quite the same way, for each time he prayed with only the words that came from the living feeling in his heart.

One pleasant spring afternoon, he was fishing in a small stream and he began to pray, "Master of the Universe, thank You for this water You have made so clear and for the worm wiggling on my hook and for the dinner I will catch. I wish I could cook up my fish and share it with You, for your generosity feeds all of us living creatures.”

The stream where the shepherd was fishing ran alongside the road, and as he prayed aloud to God, a scholar passed by and heard him.

"Who are you speaking to?" asked the scholar.

"To God. To say Thank You."

"That is not the way to pray to God. God doesn't eat. God doesn't need your fish.”

"You are a learned man," said the shepherd. "I am just a shepherd. I didn't mean to pray in the wrong way to God." Immediately he felt great remorse, for he did not wish to insult God, who he loved so much.

Then the scholar sat next to the shepherd and said, "All right, if you wish to pray, I will teach you how to pray with the proper words. The Shema is one of our most important and sacred prayers. And he taught him the Shema.

Soon after the scholar left, the strange syllables wouldn’t stay in his head and the shepherd forgot the prayer. Then he lost his appetite for the fish he'd caught now that he couldn't even think about telling God how he'd like to share it. What's more, he was afraid to pray to God that night as he looked at the tiny lights in the sky. He wondered if God was angry for all those silly prayers he'd been saying, day after day. The shepherd who had once been filled with the joy of God's creation, felt only the sadness of his own ignorance.

Up in the heavens, God had loved this simple shepherd's prayers. That night, the scholar heard a voice: "What have you done, telling a simple shepherd how to pray? You have prevented the shepherd from praying a true prayer that gladdens God's heart and his. Every person must learn to pray his own way. "Go tomorrow and seek out the shepherd. Tell him to pray as he wishes and assure him it is good and beautiful and holy."

In the morning, the scholar found the shepherd, silent and sad, watching his sheep. "Shepherd," he said, "I spoke to you yesterday about your prayer, and I was wrong. God does not mind that you do not speak Hebrew and read the holy books. God asks only that you pray as you always have. Forgive me, for it is I who do not know how to pray. You pray the true prayer, the prayer of the heart."

That night, as he looked up into the darkness, the shepherd prayed, "Dear Master of the Universe who knows all things, thank You for this quilt of blackness that You've embroidered with tiny white dots and lay each night across the fields. If I could, I'd weave a cloth of my best sheep's wool for You to wrap around Your feet on a chilly evening, for Your generosity is in every breath and every breeze.

"And thank You for sending the scholar and for hearing this, my simple prayer."

Adapted from Susan Danoff’s, “The Shepherd’s Prayer,” in Chosen Tales, edited by Peninnah Schram


I love stories like these because they remind us that our words, the words of our heart matter. A lot of people aren’t comfortable with the notion of talking with God like the shepherd. There’s a lot of obstacles we put in our way – maybe we’d feel embarrassed or we’re not sure what we believe. I’d say that none of that matters. We need to be able to express our gratitude and our pain, our questions and our needs. Whether we speak them aloud or write them down or meditate on the words of our heart we are entitled to a spiritual life, however we define that. And finding ways to express that which we most need to express – that is important and sacred work.

Shabbat Shalom!

Mon, January 25 2021 12 Sh'vat 5781