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Thursday, 12 June 2014

The Baal Shem Tov and the Pen of Prayer

Rosh Hashanah 35

Today’s Life Yomi is dedicated in memory of Eliezer ben Mendel z”l, by his brother Ram Romanovsky.

The story is told of Reb Zundel who goes to the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Chasidic movement, and asks for advice on how to pray.  The rebbe responds, “If you vow to always read your prayers from the siddur, never praying by heart, your prayers will be immeasurably changed.”  And so Zundel did.  From that day on, he made sure to always carry a pocket siddur on him so that, come what may, he could read the words of the prayers.    

One day, Reb Zundel, who was a furrier, was on a business trip when his wagon was crossing a bridge.  Suddenly the rope snapped, the bridge gave way and Zundel managed to jump out of the wagon just in time to save himself.  Swimming to shore, he found himself bereft of all his belongings, including thousands of rubles’ worth of furs.

“It’s all in the Almighty’s hands,” Zundel thought to himself, “Thank G-d I survived unscathed.”  He then headed towards the main road to try to hitch a ride back home. 

It was quite the walk and he realized that the day was wearing on and he had not yet davened mincha (prayed the afternoon service). 
“Oy vey!” he cried, “my siddur is at the bottom of the river!”

Nu, what choice did he have?  This would have to be the first time since the rebbe’s instruction that he would need to pray by heart.  It wouldn’t be a major problem – after all he had been uttering the same prayers for decades.
“But I made a promise!” he thought to himself, and he decided that he would devise a plan to pray from the text.

He was still wandering through the woods, when he arrived at a beautiful, big house.  He knocked on the door and a finely-attired gentleman answered.    Unbeknownst to Zundel, this man was the local squire.
“Can I help you?” he asked.
“Please, sir,” replied Reb Zundel, “all I am looking for is a pen and a piece of paper.   And I promise I won’t bother you any further.”

Bemused by the strange request, the squire handed Zundel the pen and paper and offered him a table to write.
“Are you writing a letter to a loved one?” the squire asked curiously.
“No,” said Zundel.  He explained to the squire about the vow he had made years earlier and proceeded to write down the entire mincha service so that he could pray from the text!

The squire watched Reb Zundel from the moment his pen connected with the paper until he finally finished his prayers and was awestruck by this man of G-d.
“What do you do and what brought you here?” inquired the squire.  Zundel told him all about his sales trip, the collapsed bridge and his lost wares and siddur.

“Zundel, my dear zhid,” said the squire, “today is your lucky day.  I am setting off tomorrow morning to visit the prince to arrange local business matters.  How about you come with me and we can establish you as the official furrier for the province?”

Rabbi Elazar taught: A person should always arrange his prayers and subsequently pray.

How often do you roll out of bed into shul in the morning?  Or bludge around at home on a Shabbat morning until you finally make it to synagogue for the last part of the service?

Imagine you had an appointment to see the king, or the prime minister or president.  You would prepare forever for the meeting.  You’d make sure that you knew exactly what you were going to say, word for word; that your suit was finely pressed; that you had psyched yourself up for the occasion.

And yet when we are about to talk to the King of kings, we think that we can just casually stroll into the conversation, mumble a few words and we’re good to go!

You need to prepare yourself to pray.  The Talmud teaches that pious people used to meditate about G-d for an hour before they would pray!  Some of us don’t even think about Him for five minutes.  Sadly, some of can get through all our prayers without thinking much about Him!

Prayer is a serious endeavour.  Take it seriously!  Prepare for your prayers.  “Know before Whom you are standing.”  Ideally, pray from the siddur.  And you will see – your ability to pray will increase a thousand-fold! 

Start your path to becoming a master prayer today!

Life Yomi dedications don’t cost a penny!  To dedicate a day of learning in honour of a birthday, anniversary or yortzeit, all you need to do is commit to sending the Life Yomi of the day (or another Life Yomi teaching of your choice) to 18 (chai) people!  You needn’t provide us with the names of recipients; all we need is the honouree’s name and occasion.  For more details, please email

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