Parashat Vayeshev

Shepherd Consciousness

The thoughts of a shepherd may be sublime, but they cannot take him away from the task at hand.

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Let us first examine through the teachings of Rabbi Kook what occurs when one engages in the inner-reflection that exemplifies "shepherd consciousness." Rabbi Kook writes in Orot Hakodesh (volume 3, p. 270):

"The greater the soul, the more it must struggle in order to find itself; the more the depths of the human soul are hidden from the conscious mind. One must have extended solitude and hitbodedut (self-reflective prayer), examining ideas, deepening thoughts, and expanding the mind, until finally the soul will truly reveal itself, unveiling some of the splendor of its brilliant inner light."

Silent Contemplation

In order to cultivate one's own greatness, it is necessary to develop a deep soul-awareness. This is best accomplished through silence and isolation. When one truly engages in such a practice, it will inevitably have a positive influence both in one's own life and also on one's surroundings. The intent of this withdrawal is ultimately to have a positive impact on the larger world, and not for mere personal spiritual fulfillment.

The goal is not to engage in a personal spiritual path that is disassociated from the rest of the world. Rather, the aspiration is the opposite--the solitude of the shepherd ultimately enables him to reconnect and even provide for the larger world on a spiritual level.

The silence of the shepherd is not just the absence of speech. It is a sublime language of silence, flowing from an outpouring of the soul, a vehicle of ruah hakodesh (Divine inspiration). The depths of the soul demand silence. Silence is full of life, revealing treasures from the beauty of wisdom.

Yet today's hi-tech, DSL-connected world does not leave enough space for an individual to hear silence. Even with wireless access, are we able to access the inner recesses of our own being?

Rebbe Nahman of Breslov teaches that a Jew should spend one hour a day in hitbodedut. This means that every Jewish person should set aside a significant period of time to simply be with God. Not to pray formally, study, or engage in mitzvot--rather, to simply be. It can include mundane conversation with God, or soul-wrenching self-analysis.

In this sacred time we can come to taste the Divine encounter that our forefathers taught us through their example as shepherds. This one hour of being with God--of simply being--will come to inform how we are and what we do in the world. 

Environmental Implications

When we are too caught up in experiencing the world without "shepherd consciousness" we tend to make decisions from our own narrow, "get-ahead" reality. When we focus too much on "doing," without making time for "being," that is to say, communing with the Divine, we automatically make decisions that transform the earth in negative ways.

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Fivel Yedidya Glasser has been involved in Jewish environmental teaching and guiding for 6 years with diverse groups including Yeshivat Torat Chaim, Teva Adventure, Camp Yavneh, Brandeis Bardin Institute, and Machon Nesiya. He is currently on a hiatus from teaching and has returned to full-time Torah study at the Bat Ayin Yeshiva.