By Rabbi Boruch Leff
Rabbi Moshe Weinberger tells the story of a British poetry reading contest gathering (only the British would still engage in such activities!) where contestants would read a piece of poetry of their choice and then submit to an evaluation from the listening audience. Throughout the evening, tens of contestants stood up and read their poems in the most dramatic and highly sophisticated and refined Queen’s English British accent that they could muster. The final contestant, a young man in his twenties put on a tremendous display of his talents, demonstrating great emotion and passion as he chose Psalm 23 for his reading, G-d is My Shepherd, I do not lack anything.
The audience was extremely moved, more than it had been the entire night, as the charming young man read the beautiful paragraph written by King David. It was clear to all who the winner of the poetry reading was to be. Even the many other poetry readers that evening knew they were masterfully outdone. But just as the wonderful event was drawing to a close, an old European Jewish man with a heavy Yiddish accent raised his hand and asked for a chance to take part as a contestant in the poetry reading contest, requesting to also read/ /Psalm 23/. /The chairman of the evening did not know how to react; the scene and the request seemed so comical. How in the world did this old Jew who seemed to speak broken English think he could impress a classy British audience? The chairman did not know whether to laugh or scream at the man for displaying such foolishness in front of such a refined listening group.
After a few minutes, with the crowd murmuring throughout, the chairman composed himself and finally said, “Of course, you may enter into the reading contest. We allow all those present to attempt a reading if they so desire.” The chairman figured that hearing the old man make a fool out of himself would add a touch of comedy and be a nice way to end the evening.
The old European Jewish man with the Yiddish accent got up in front of the gathering and began to slowly recite the verses/ /in the best English he could provide. “G-d is My Shepherd, I do not lack anything . . .” The old man read the words with such emotion and meaning—his passions and intensity were palpable. “In lush meadows He lays me down. . .” The audience’s smiles and yearnings for laughter transformed quickly to eager and fixated listeners, hanging on every word. “He restores my soul. . . Though I walk in the valley of death, I will not fear because You are with me. . .”
By the time the man completed his reading, many in the audience were moved to tears—and a new poetry reading champion was crowned—but shockingly, it was not the young man in his twenties. No, the old European Jewish man with the Yiddish accent was the British poetry reading winner.
The young man in his twenties was crushed. He had worked and practiced for so long for this event. He knew he did an excellent job with his reading and thought he had won handily—and he /was/ about to win—until this mysterious old man ‘stole’ the award right out of his hands. Despite his disappointment, the young man was one to find a way to learn and improve his skills if he could. He ran up to the old man and new poetry champion and asked, “What was it? How did you manage to outdo my performance?”
The old man smiled and said, “You did a masterful job. Your reading was clear, impeccable and dramatic. The only advantage that I have over you is that I know the Shepherd! He’s my father! He’s my friend!”
What does it mean to know the Shepherd? How can we get to know G-d a little better than we do presently?
Imagine a relationship with one of your friends. Why are you friends? The answer is that you make him feel comfortable to be around you and he makes you feel welcomed to be with him. You share things in common with your friend—you enjoy his company.
It works exactly the same way with G-d. If we want His Presence, if we want to get to know Him, we have to do things that make Him feel comfortable to be with us. We have to share things that are in common with G-d. We have to share our lives with G-d.
One way to do this is to sincerely talk to Him—often. Let Him into your life. Speak to Him in your own words and in your own language. Once a day, open up to Him and tell Him how things are really going. Treat Him as you would treat a friend, a father, a spouse. Make Him feel pleased to be with you.
As the Rebbe of Kotzk once said, “Where is G-d found? Wherever you let Him in!”