Many years ago lived a saintly man that had one cow. Every morning he would get up to pray and then have breakfast. After breakfast he would take his cow out to the field and plough it, making the ground soft so he could put seeds in it to grow his wheat. He did this every day of the week but on Shabbat the man rested from doing work and so did the cow as the Torah says “six days you should work and you should rest on the seventh you and your oxen and donkeys”.
After many years this saintly man became poor. It was difficult for him to provide for himself. Every so often he would take something from his house and try to sell it to buy some food so he wouldn’t starve. One day he had nothing left but to sell the cow. It caused him great pain, but he had no choice. He sold it to his non-Jewish neighbor.
On Sunday the neighbor tied the cow to the plough and the cow did amazing work. “Wow what an amazing cow my neighbor sold me! What a good deal!” The neighbor said to himself as he was really pleased with the cow he bought from the saintly man. He did this Monday Tuesday and every day until Shabbat. On Shabbat, he tied her up to the plough but she just laid there and didn’t budge! “Hey! You! Get up! We have work to do!! The opened her big eyes and looked at her owner and let out a big mooooooooooo! The owner even took a stick and started hitting her to get up but she just wouldn’t and she let out another moooooooo!
The neighbor was furious and he ran back to his saintly neighbor to complain. The Saintly man received him graciously; “How can I help you?” He asked. “You sold me a bad cow!” The gentile neighbor complained. “How is the cow bad? What did it do?” asked the saintly man. The man answered, “It just lies on the floor and doesn’t do anything! I want my money back!!” The saintly man was puzzled. She always worked for me, she was a great worker… and never made trouble!” The gentile said, “Come see for yourself!”
The saintly man came and saw for himself that the cow was just sitting there and she refused to get up. The saintly man asked, “But she worked before today, right?” “Yes she did, she was great” said the gentile. “Okay don’t worry I’ll make sure she’ll start working for you right away” said the saintly man. He went over to the cow and whispered in her ear: “Until this week you belonged to me and you had to keep Shabbat. But now you belong to this gentile neighbor and you no longer need to keep Shabbat! So I ask you to listen to your new owner and do what he says!” The cow suddenly stretched out her legs and stood up ready to go to work.
The gentile owner was afraid. “What did you say to her was it a magic spell” asked the gentile to the saintly man? I’m afraid next week she won’t want to work again!” The saintly man answered: “Don’t worry, I didn’t do any magic. I just gently explained to her that when I owned her she had to keep Shabbat but now that you own her she no longer needs to keep Shabbat and she can begin working…”
This gentile neighbor was astounded. “How can it be that a cow understands what Shabbat is and I don’t? Is my brain smaller than hers? This man converted to Judaism and became a great sage called Yohanan ben Turta, ‘Johanan the son of the Cow’, because it was the cow that aroused him to seek out the truth of Judaism.