Think back to your t'nach classes from High School and Elementary School. Who were the greatest niviim (prophets) and leaders from Biblical times? There was Avrohom, Yitzchok, Yaakov, Moshe, Dovid, etc. What do they all have in common? Oddly enough, most of them were shepherds. Shepherding seems to be a pastime conducive to raising a person's madreiga (spiritual level). The question, however, is why? Why is leading a flock of sheep so beneficial to the growth of a navi (prophet) or leader?
I don't know how many of you have actually been shepherds in the past. My guess would be few to none - I know I've never so much as seen a sheep outside of a zoo. But from what I understand, a shepherd has a lot of time on his hands. He does almost nothing while the sheep graze all day. When it's time to bring them back to their pen, he and the sheepdog herd them in. He sits around all day with nothing to do but think. And think. And think.
But the shepherds who became our n'viim didn't just think about where they were going to go for Shabbos or what they were going to wear the next day. Nope. Not these shepherds. They bent their minds to more philosophical thoughts - about Hashem and the wonderful world that He created for us. They watched the sun rise and set, the grass grow, and even the clouds form. They saw niflaos ha'borei (wonders of creation) in everything. This way of thinking, this turn of mind, is what brought them closer to Hashem.
But what about us - today?
When I was in seminary, I remember thinking on more than one tiyul (trip) that it must have been much easier to find Hashem before modern civilization. It is so much easier to see Hashem in the forests, farms, and oceans of days gone by than in the office buildings, houses, and schools of today. Back then, Hashem was visible to the naked eye; today He's hidden by millions of tons of scientific progress.
Lately I've been noticing that I don't really think too much about real things. My mind is too busy flitting between school and home, dating and weddings and millions of other things. Somehow there's just no time left to think about the really important things. When I think about davening, do I think about how I can squeeze mincha into the last five minutes before the zman, or about how lucky I am to have this twice daily opportunity to speak to Hakadosh Baruch Hu? When I think about school, do I think about how lucky I am to be able to afford to go to college so I can earn a higher salary to support a family, or am I just complaining about my next report? When I think about Hashem, do I … wait – do I ever think about Hashem? Or is my mind totally wrapped up in myself and my daily concerns?
Thinking is what sets us apart from the animals; thinking Jewish thoughts is what separates us from the goyim (non-Jews). I (try to) think … am I?