Straight from the Heart

R' Yisroel of Ruzhin zt"l once stayed in a town called Sanek during one of his travels.

Of course, everybody came out to greet him since the reputation of the Tzaddik preceded him everywhere he went. Among those who came to greet Reb Yisrael were some Jews who were not adherents of the Chassidic path. These Misnaggdim decided to vent their hostility on Reb Yisrael.

"Tell us", they challenged, "it is very difficult for us to understand. Our custom is to arise well before the break of dawn, to pray the morning prayer at sunrise according the custom of the Vasikin. After we finish praying, we remain for some time in the Shul, still wrapped in Tallis and Tefilin and we learn Chumash and Mishna before we leave. Even as we put away the Tallis and Tefillin we learn chapters by memory from the Tanach. The rest of the day, we maintain fixed times when we gather for additional study in the Shul. For this behavior we are labeled Misnaggdim?! (opposers).

You, (the Chassidim) your way is to pray the morning prayer long after the prescribed time for doing so, and immediately after the prayer, instead of dedicating time for study, you race to set the table. You bring out cake and brandy, and you sit together drinking, eating and singing. For this you are called Chassidim?! (pious) It seems to me to be quite the opposite."

Reb Leib, the attendant of the Rizhiner after hearing these accusations could not hold himself in. "I'm not surprised," he imputed. "Your whole service is performed with so little heart, in such a calculated, chilly and lifeless manner, it is no wonder that you learn Mishnayos afterwards, for that is what one learns in memory of the dead! (Mishna has the same letters as the word neshama, N*Sh*M*H) Not so the service of the Chassidim. Whatever we do, no matter how much, or how little, wedo with devotion, warmth and vitality. A living man needs a drink of brandy once in a while."

But before he could go on, the Rizhiner interrupted him. "You should realize that he is just joking. I will tell you the real reason for our way of praying and the secret of L'Chayim.

It is well know that since the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash our prayer takes the place of the sacrifices which were offered there. As it is written, (Hosea 14:3), "The prayer of our lips shall replace the oxen of the sacrifice." Our three daily prayers correspond to the daily burnt offerings. Just as a sacrifice was rendered invalid by undirected thoughts, so too is our prayer.

When a man stands in prayer before his Creator, the Yetzer Hara wants nothing more than to confuse him and introduce all manner of strange thoughts into his head. How is it possible to stand in prayer in face of that? In the end, we are not successful in replacing the oxen of the sacrifices with our prayers. What did the Chassidim find to remedy the problem, and with which to battle against the tricks of the Yetzer Hara?

After the Prayer, the Chassidim sit together, raising their glasses in L'Chayim, and pouring their hearts in blessing. "Yankel, you should find a proper shidduch for your daughter," exclaims one. "Beryl, your business should have have customers like the eyes on a potato," exclaims another.

The Yetzer Hara, regales in his victory over having confounded the prayer of a congregation of Jews. Seeing them eating and drinking, he concludes that their prayer is finished for the meantime, and he retires for the morning.

Now, it is a Halacha in the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law), that prayer can be said in any language that one understands. (Orach Chaim 62:2) Therefore when Jews gather to say L'Chayim and to bless one another from the depths of their hearts, it is the real Tefilah, and it goes straight to the heart of the Master of the World.