The following mitzvah was given to the People of Israel:
“Six days shall you do your tasks, and on the seventh day you shall cease, so that your ox and your donkey will have restful contentment” (Exodus 23:12).
“So that your ox and your donkey will have restful contentment” – “On Shabbos, our animals are to have contentment of the heart” (B'air Yitzchak, a commentary on Rashi).
In honor of Shabbos, I would like to share with you the following story from the Midrash (Pesikta Rabbasi 14). This story took place in the Land of Israel during the period of Roman rule over the Land:
Once there was a Jewish man who owned a cow with which he plowed his field. He and the cow would rest, however, on the holy Shabbos, the day which our people dedicate to the Creator. Regarding the Shabbos, the Creator proclaimed:
“The Children of Israel shall safeguard the Shabbos, to make the Shabbos an eternal covenant for their generations. Between Me and the Children of Israel it is a sign forever” (Exodus 31:16, 17).
This Jewish man went through a difficult period where he was forced to sell the cow to a non-Jewish neighbor. The new owner plowed with it for six days. On Shabbos, he also took it out to plough, but it lay down beneath its yoke. He began to beat it, but the animal would not budge from its place. Seeing that his efforts were in vain, he went to his Jewish neighbor and said, “Come take your cow, for she grieves after her former master. No matter how much I beat her, she refuses to budge from her place.”
The Jewish man realized that the cow refused to work because it had been taught to rest on Shabbos, the day which is dedicated to the Creator of all life. He said, “I will get her to stand up.” When he came, he whispered in her ear, “Heifer, heifer, you know that when you were mine, you plowed all week and rested on Shabbos. But now because of my sins, I was forced to sell you, and your new owner is not Jewish. Therefore, I beseech you, stand up and plough.” She immediately arose and began to plough.
The new owner said, “I beg you, take back your cow. But before I leave, tell me what did you whisper in her ear? I wore myself out with her, and even beat her, but she did not get up.”
The Jewish man told him what he had whispered in her ear. Immediately, the other man began to tremble when he realized that this cow, who did not have human intellect, recognized the Creator. He therefore proclaimed, “How can I, a human being whom my Maker formed in His own image and to whom He gave intellect, fail to recognize my Creator?” Straightaway, he went and converted to Judaism. Eventually, he became an accomplished Torah scholar who was known as Rabbi Yochanan ben Torsa (Yochanan, son of a cow), and to this day, our rabbis cite his rulings. Why is he called the “son of a cow”? It is because the elevated behavior of this cow led to his spiritual rebirth.
Have a Good and Sweet Shabbos,
And have a Chodesh Tov – A Good Month!
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)
A Related Teaching:
The People of Israel were given the mandate to “safeguard” the Shabbos, as it is written:
“The Children of Israel shall safeguard the Shabbos, to make the Shabbos an eternal covenant for their generations. Between Me and the Children of Israel it is a sign forever” (Exodus 31:16, 17) .
According to our tradition, we safeguard the Shabbos through refraining from performing 39 categories of “melacha” – creative work. Through this limitation on our own power, we proclaim the following message: Human beings are not the owners of the earth and its creatures, for the earth and its creatures belong to the One Creator of all life. The specific mandate to “safeguard” the Shabbos was given to the People of Israel; however, the message of this mandate is meant for all the peoples.