Wednesday, January 23, 2008

"The Lowliest, Most Menial Occupation"

(Picture by Floriana Barbu)

Gandalin commenting on Shepherd-Consciousness:

From my experience, though, I want to emphasize one thing: the humbleness, or humility of the shepherd.

I once lived in a community in another culture, in which sheepherding was one of the major forms of economic activity.

Sheepherders were hired, and it was truly the lowest, most menial, most poorly compensated job in the world.

The sheepherders lived out in the wilderness with their sheep, and were supplied with a shack, firewood, coffee, flour, shortening, and sugar. And a dollar a day.

There was no employment below the level of the sheepherder.

I think that was also largely true in olden days. Dovid haMelech, for example, herded sheep as the youngest brother; this was the job assigned to the least significant and most overlooked of Jesse's sons.

The transition made by Moshe Rabbenu was extraordinarily dramatic. Adopted by Pharaoh's daughter, he grew up in the royal-divine precincts of the most advanced and wealthy civilization of its era, and although it is not explicitly stated in the Chumash, we can presume that he was educated to the highest levels possible, and that he enjoyed the highest standard of living possible at that time. Indeed, when Tziporah described to her father, the stranger who helped her at the well, she described him as an Egyptian.

From such a height of wealth and culture, Moshe willingly became a sheepherder for Yisro. He accepted the lowliest, most menial occupation that existed. This is an indication of his humility.

Because of the spiritual heights that shepherds like Moshe Rabbenu and Melech Dovid attained, we are today inclined to idealize the position of shepherd, and of course we have come to consider ourselves Hashem's flock, that He tends with the concern and love of the shepherd. I think that obscures the humbleness of a shepherd's position.

Although humble, the shepherd's position is responsible, and a valuable resource is entrusted to his care. In the course of his work, he has opportunities to develop and exhibit courage and strength, compassion and wisdom.

Perhaps these opportunities arise from time to time even in our own humble work lives, even today.


At January 27, 2008 at 5:03:00 PM EST, Blogger Gandalin said...

Let me add, in the situation of Moshe Rabbenu, that we are explicitly told that Yosef Avinu asked his brothers to conceal that they were shepherds, since sheepherding was repugnant to the Egyptians. Now although we know that Moshe Rabbenu was nursed by his mother Yocheved, and that he certainly maintained his identity as one of Bnai Yisrael, he must have been conscious, as he accepted a life as Yisro's sheepherder, of how he had fallen from his privileged position in royal Egypt. Perhaps he felt this "fall" as a liberation. But he certainly knew how humble he had become. And thus he was worthy to receive the humble manifestation of the Creator's purpose in a mere bush.


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