A episode from my childhood

Thursday, 25 December, 2014 - 2:00 pm

There are episodes that become imprinted in us during childhood, and every once in a while they surface and are contemplated again.

I have one such episode in my life: Shabbat in the Beit Menachem shul in Kfar Chabad. I am seven years old, and want to go home already. It’s 2:00 in the afternoon; the davening ended at 12:00, and even the Hitva’adut (gathering of Chassidim) is tapering off. The 777 brandy is almost empty; only a few pieces of herring remain. The Chassidim who came at 7:00 a.m. (the custom on Shabbat Mevarchim being to say the entire book of Tehillim before davening) are walking home leisurely, as is appropriate for Shabbat, with their Tallitot on their shoulders and the towels from the morning dip in the Mikveh on top of them.

My father and I go into the “Cheder Sheni” (an extra room in Chassidic shuls used for the Hitva’adut and other functions) to get my father’s Tallit and towel. We enter quietly. On the left, by the wall, there is a Jew sitting and davening. That is R. Chaim Schreiber. His Tallit covers his head and most of his face. His body does not move, and no sound is heard from him. And he will sit there for hours more…

“Who is this? What is he doing” I asked my father. My father just whispered to me, “This is a Chassid.” Since then, every Shabbat I would go into the Cheder Sheni to see what a Chassid looks like.

I remembered all this this week, when I learned the Rebbe’s explanation of the Zohar about “And the voice was heard in the house of Pharaoh” (after Yosef revealed himself to his brothers, the news reached the royal palace).

The word “Vehakol” (the voice) is written without its Vav – making it read as “vehakal” (if read without the dots). The zohar sees in this a reference to the fact that davening should be in a whisper, almost soundless.

The main point of prayer – which is “service of the heart” – is the internal concentration and the heart’s contemplations; loud speech might interfere with the deep concentration and the internal sensations of the heart.

A person who is standing and davening, especially in the Amidah (Shmoneh-Esreh) prayer, should reach the heights of cleaving to Hashem. He must pray in a state of complete annulment of himself and in total devotion, whispering, in secret, as is fitting for a most personal and internal moment of connection between him and his Creator.

The internal service of the heart is done quietly, in whispers. There is no place here for noise and an external exhibition of one’s faith – it should be just like R. Chaim Schreiber z”l, sitting in the corner of the Cheder Sheni with his Tallit, in silence.


Shabbat Shalom,


Zalmen Wishedski

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