Thursday, September 16, 2010

"Where Are The Holy Tablets?"

Sometime during the first half of the 18th century there was a Maggid, a preacher, living in the town of Mezbohz who harbored a life long dream to relocate to the Holy Land, the Land of Israel. However, this wish was balanced against the reality that he felt needed in town. He couldn't in good conscience just abandon his flock.

 One day in the middle of his glowing spiritual career of inspiring the Jews of Mezbohz, the holy Ba'al Shem Tov moved into town. With a such a holy master to guide the people, the Maggid felt that his shoes were more than amply filled and no longer saw any reason to hold back on his dream to finally move to the Land of Israel. Every so often, he'd ask the holy Ba'al Shem Tov whether the time was right to set out on the journey and with each request the holy Ba'al Shem Tov sweetly responded, "Not yet."

There came a day when the Ba'al Shem Tov left Mezbohz on one of his long journeys. For the Maggid the Ba'al Shem Tov's long absence was his moment of opportunity. Living in abject poverty, it did not take long for him to sell all his meager possessions and scrape up the money he needed for the journey of his dreams. As was the custom of saintly Jews of that era, he began the first leg of his journey on a Friday. The idea was just to travel to the next town over and settle down for the holy Sabbath before resuming the journey on Sunday.

The Maggid huddled his Wife and children into a small wagon containing all their worldly possessions and started riding. Reaching just past the outskirts of town, whom did they meet? None other than the Ba'al Shem Tov himself traveling back to town from the other direction. The Maggid greeted the Ba'al Shem Tov a bit sheepishly. Embarrassed for having tried to sneak his way past the Ba'al Shem Tov, he shrugged, "Holy master what could I do? I just couldn't take living in diaspora any longer."

The Ba'al Shem Tov looked at him with deep understanding eyes. "Ok, I hear you.", He offered. "Please do me just one small favor. Spend one more Sabbath with me in Mezbohz. If you still want to leave after that Sabbath, you have my blessing."

"Holy master.", Protested the Maggid, "I have no money left nor a house to live in. How will I spend Sabbath in Mezbohz?"

"No problem, I already thought of that. You and your family will be my honored guests for this Sabbath. All your expenses are on me.", Offered the Ba'al Shem Tov.

With such an offer what could the Maggid do ? He turned around his wagon and followed the Ba'al Shem Tov back into town. As a true guest, for the rest of that Friday wherever the Ba'al Shem Tov went, the Maggid followed along. Later in the afternoon, the Ba'al Shem Tov visited the town's Mikvah, a spiritually purifying body of water. He was so holy that his immersion left an positive energetic impression in the waters.

When the Ba'al Shem Tov emerged from his ritual immersion, the Maggid undressed. It was his turn to immerse. He spent quite a while in the Mikvah. After emerging, he shared with people that he changed his mind. He's staying in Mezbohz.

When asked what happened that caused him to decide on staying, he related, "After the Ba'al Shem Tov emerged from the Mikvah, I went in. I saw myself in the Land of Israel. I was surrounded by a group of angels. I asked them to point me in the direction of the holy city of Jerusalem. There, I was in Jerusalem. I asked them to point me in the direction of the Temple Mount. There I was. I asked them to bring me into the Holy Temple. No problem, I was in the Holy Temple. I asked for the Holy of Holies. I was escorted into the Holy Holies. In front of me stood the gilded ark of covenant with it's two high winged cherubims. I requested for the lid be lifted off. I wanted to view the holy Tablets brought down by Moses himself from heaven containing Ten Commandments. They lifted the lid for me. My jaw dropped. The inside of the ark was empty... no Tablets."

"What!", I cried out in disbelief. "Where are the holy Tablets?"

"Oh, you want the holy Tablets.", the angels rejoined. "If you want the Tablets, they're no longer here. They're now in Mezbohz."

Dear Reader, "What lesson(s) do you draw from this story?"

What I draw from the story is that the Creator really did answer the Maggid's prayers and repond to his dreams afterall. Only, the answer was so perfect that the Maggid did not realize that his prayers were answered.

The Creator answered the prayer within his prayer. On the surface the prayer was to move to the Holy Land. However, on the deeper level the real prayer was to access the Holy Tablets. So the Creator arranged his access to Holy Tablets. He was living is Mezbohz and had direct access to the Holy Baal Shem Tov.

However, he did not realize what he really prayed for and wanted until he was faced with the possiblity of having the "surface prayer" answered at the expense of the "deeper prayer". Then, he was faced with what he was really requesting.

Many times the Creator answers our prayers so beautifully, that we don't even realize that our prayers were were fulfilled.

Monday, September 6, 2010

A Deeper Prayer

The holy Baal Shem Tov had appointed a close disciple to blow shofar for his community Rosh Hashana morning. In preparation for this holy assignment, the disciple carefully studied the meditations from the holy Ari z'l designed to accompany blowing the shofar and studiously committed them to memory.

These meditations include visualizing combinations of various divine names at certain key moments during the sounding of the shofar.

The intensely awaited moment finally arrived. The disciple was standing before the holy congregation on that holy day, in that holy moment. As he raised the shofar to his quivering lips, he reached into his memory bank to retrieve the meditations, but to his own surprise his mind did not cooperate and blanked out on him.

Now he was forced to sound the shofar without the "crown jewel" he had so carefully crafted to accompany this precious moment. The imperfection of his performance was too personally glaring to ignore. So broken, so crushed, so humiliated, he blew the shofar in a deeply saddened state.

At the conclusion of the prayer services, after his last sounds vibrated across the sanctuary, the Baal Shem Tov approached him with very warm congratulations. Surprised and taken aback, he explained to the Baal Shem Tov how he broken hearted he was for not remembering even a single meditation. He doubted that his performance was really proportionally equal to the congratulations he had just received.

Strangely, the Baal Shem Tov's smile grew ever more radiant as his disciple bemoaned his "poor" performance. Finally, when the Baal Shem Tov's joy had brimmed over he replied, "That's exactly the way one is supposed to blow shofar, with a humbled heart! Praying with a humbled heart opens up far more gates in the heavens above than any mystical meditation can."

Lesson: The mystical meditations are certainly very important. However, they are not substitutes for the basics that prayer is supposed to contain - like a feeling heart. In this particular case, the disciple was so busy with the meditations that he would have been distracted from mustering up the level of heart needed as a very basic ingredient for his prayer. As we approach Rosh Hashanah remember, "Pray out of the depths of your heart".