Want to get to know people? Listen to the stories they tell. Particularly the stories they repeat often. These stories give you a glimpse into their inner world. Their dreams. Their aspirations. Their goals.
There is one story that the Rebbe would repeat often.
It’s a story about a man G-d was about to appoint as the leader of the Jewish people. He was a brilliant man who never buckled under pressure. He was also a spiritual person, always attuned to his purpose.
Sounds like a good fit, doesn’t it? Well, not for G-d. Because the stakes were so high, G-d wanted to have the most qualified person ever.
And so G-d devised a personality test. He gave him a bunch of sheep and watched him closely.
Would he feed the sheep? Of course, he would.
Would he care for their wounds? Of course, he would.
Every good shepherd takes good care of their flock. This shepherd must do more, something extraordinary, to prove his leadership abilities.
And this is precisely what he did. Immediately after assuming responsibility for the fury animals, he started paying attention to each one of them. He identified their age and ability to graze. Then, he would seek out the perfect grass for each goat to receive the maximum nutrition.
Seeing this, G-d declared: this is it! My dear Moshe, you care so deeply for the sheep, you would care deeply for my people. You are going to be their leader!
This week, we mark 74 years since the Rebbe assumed leadership of the Chabad movement. The Rebbe would often share this story in his many talks and writings. The Rebbe passionately believed that we all need to be like Moshe, always on the lookout for the individual needs of people around us.
Sixty years ago, while discussing this story, the Rebbe highlighted why this “sheep test” was so important (source).
First, The sheep Moshe tended to were owned by Jethro, who was then an avid idol worshipper, starkly contrasting Moshe’s dedication to the G-d in heaven. Moshe’s care for the flock proved he would be a genuine leader who would also care for those opposing him.
Second, Moshe was a highly spiritual man. Yet he was willing to spend energy on sheep, unchanging beings with no prospects of ‘becoming better’ or embarking on a self-improvement journey. For Moshe, caring for the physical needs of his flock was as important as the spiritual ones.
Moshe passed the test with flying colors, but we don’t have to wait to receive a few sheep before we implement the lessons he taught us. Opportunities to spiritually and physically help people are all around us. And doing so would be a befitting tribute to the Rebbe’s leadership.