the Importance of Purity of Intent
By Simcha Rich
Near a small village in
Eastern Europe some 200 years ago, a young Jewish boy was orphaned
and was adopted by some warm hearted Gentiles. They treated him
very well and gave him a job as a shepherd. The boy, who knew
he was Jewish but had no understanding of what this meant, would
go out each day with the flock and with his flute. As he would
watch the flock, he would sit on a rock and play upon his flute.
As the Jewish Holidays
neared he saw many people traveling on the road going to the nearby
city of Berdichev. Each day more and more people would pass the
normally seldom traveled road. Their presence aroused the boys
curiosity and he asked the travelers what is the reason for their
"We are on the way
to Berdichev, to spend the high holy days with the tzaddik,(a
pious and righteous man) Rabbi Levi Yitzchak," was the reply.
"High holy days?"
the boy asked confused, "what is that?"
The men laughed, "It
is the Jewish New Year, silly, all the world is being judged,
and you are out here with your sheep? You belong in the synagogue!"
The boy was taken aback.
He really did not understand what it was all about. As he sat
out in his field watching the sheep graze peacefully in the green
pasture, he began to think about what the men said. Perhaps I
should go with them, he thought. But then again, he mused, I
don't know how to pray. I only know that there is a G-d and that
I am a Jew.
Then several days later,
he saw the men going back in the opposite direction. He understood
from this, that the high holidays had passed. How surprised was
he the next week to see, the pilgrimage to Berdichev repeated.
he asked of the men, "why are you going again to Berdichev?
Did you not just have the high holidays?"
"Tomorrow is Yom Kippur,"
they explained, "we want to be with the tzaddik, Rabbi Levi
Yitzchak in Berdichev to pray for a good year."
"I thought that you did that last
week for Rosh Hashanah? Why do you have to go again?"
"Silly boy, don't you know that
the judgement only begins on Rosh Hashanah. The judgement is suspended
and sealed on Yom Kippur. If you had any brains, you would come
into Berdichev and pray also for a good year. What kind of a year
do you expect if you stay out here in the field?"
The words of the men had an impact on
the young lad. As he sat out in the field playing his flute and
watching the grazing flock, he felt a desire to go the synagogue
in Berdichev. Alas, he did not know how to pray. He did not even
know how to read Hebrew. What could he do? He just sat in the
field playing a mournful tune on his flute.
The next day was Yom Kippur. The young
boy told his adopted family that he wanted to go to Berdichev
but he felt uneasy since he had never been inside a synagogue.
They, being G-d fearing and good hearted people encouraged him
to go. Not knowing what to do, the boy went into the woods with
his flute to meditate and think.
Meanwhile, in the small town of Berdichev,
in Rabbi Levi Yitzchak's synagogue, the congregation was deep
in prayer. The holy tzaddik, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak, was not happy.
He stood under his large talit, which covered his head and body,
swaying in holy communion. He sensed that the prayers of the congregation
were not making their way into the heavens. He tried, but in vain,
to elevate the prayers.
At this time, the young boy, who had
decided to come to Berdichev, entered the synagogue. He was totally
amazed at the sight of the townsfolk engaged in prayer. Each person
was beseeching G-d to give them a good year. In their devoted
concentration, they did not notice the young lad enter the synagogue.
The young boy, not totally understanding
the scene that he saw felt unhappy. Each person in the synagogue
was able to commune with G-d but not him. He felt an urge to do
something, but what could he do? He could not read Hebrew, he
knew no prayer. With streams of tears, he decided to play a tune
to G-d. It was his way of communicating. Unknown to him, playing
music on this - the holiest day of the year - was forbidden. He
pulled out his flute and in sincere concentration dedicated a
soul searching tune to G-d. As he began his melody, the entire
synagogue became astounded. The turned in anger to look at this
terrible desecration of the holiday. As they shouted at him to
stop this terrible desecration, the boy looked terrified. Rabbi
Levi Yitzchak, came running to the boy smiling and joyous.
"Ah," he laughed, "know
that this boy's innocent mistake has saved our prayers."
The congregation stood back in awe of
the tzaddik's words. What had happened?
"This boy saved our prayers."
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak continued, "I saw that our prayers were
not ascending to the heavens. We were not able to pray with the
purity and sincerity that are required to elevate our prayers
into the heavenly courts. Suddenly, this boy with his unknowing
error but pure heart and tears began to play his flute. His purity
was added to our prayers and the doors of heaven opened up and
our prayers were accepted.
"We owe our thanks to this young
man." He finished his words and took the young boy with him
to the front of the synagogue. "You shall sit with me, for
you have saved our prayers."
We, too, can pray with true devotion.
Let us just open ourselves up and let our inside rise to G-d,
just this one time.
from the September 1998 Edition of the Jewish Magazine