Praying and the Horse
By Lazer Goldman
Once there was a small town in Eastern Europe name Homel. There was one synagogue and the local townsmen would come each day and pray. They were simple folk and they liked to pray with feeling and emotion. Their prayers were laden with singing and even spontaneous dance. They enjoyed meeting in the small synagogue and their prayers were always a joyous celebration.
However there were some men who disliked their mode of worship. They insisted that the proper manner of prayer as directed by the authoritative Code of Jewish Law demanded that decorum be observed. They fought that the synagogue prayer service should be arranged according to the clock in order to enable the townsmen to complete their prayers in an orderly fashion so they could go to work with out undue delay.
This second group finally prevailed on the tiny synagogue and they forbid the impromptu singing and dancing that had marked the joyous services. Now the prayers were conducted according to a set pattern. They would begin at a certain time and each prayer took a specified measured time. In this manner, the prayers were very orderly and the service finished at the specified time.
The first group, the men who enjoyed the spontaneous prayers were down trodden. They felt that their world had come to an end. They just could not manage to pray in the constriction of timed prayer with out the joyous impromptu outbursts of soulful song. They wrote a letter to a famous Rabbi, known as the Dubno Magid, who was known for his power of speech.
The Dubno Magid was wont to travel from community to community and tell stories that had deep moral messages. When he received this communication from the depressed men of Homel, he decided to visit the town.
After spending a few days in the town and praying at the tiny synagogue, he announced that he would give a speech after the evening prayers. The small synagogue was jam-packed. Every one turned out to hear the famed Rabbi speak.
The Dubno Magid ascended the podium and began speaking.
"A hundred years ago, several wealthy gentile land-owners made a hunt together. They spent the day chasing after wolves and foxes. After an exhausting day, one of the landowners invited the rest of the participants to come to his house for a festive meal commemorating a successful hunt. The men obliged.
The landowners began eating a festive meal and drinking wine. They began re-calling the pleasures of the hunt. Each one was bragging about their part in the hunt and how well they had done. Soon the men were reveling in their overindulgence in wine. Each man tried to out do the other.
Finally one tipsy landowner stood up and began to brag about his Jewish worker.
"My Yaankel is such a smart Jew. You know that I don't have to do anything. He comes in and does everything. He runs my farms and balances my books. When I go back, I know that everything will be taken care of perfectly!"
The next land-owner, not to be outdone, jumped to his feet and exclaimed, "My Mendel is even better he does everything that your Yaankel does, but even more. No matter how bad things go in my businesses, somehow he balances the books so that I make a profit. I don't know how he does it, but he does it!"
Each person began bragging about their Jewish workers who labored hard and long to make big profits for the wealthy landowners while receiving only a pittance in exchange.
Finally, the host, who was quite tipsy, stood up and said, "My Moshe is everything that your Jew-boys are, PLUS! He is so smart that he could do anything I ask him to do. Why he could even train a horse to pray!!!!"
The rest of the men disagreed. No one could train a horse to pray. No, that they refused to accept.
"I will bet each of your 2000 Rubles, (a large sum of money) that he can do it!"
The men smiled at each other. This looks too good to be true. Two thousand rubles? It's a bet!
The drunken landowner ordered that Moshe and a horse be brought in. "Moshe, I have bet these gentlemen a large amount of money that you are so smart that you can teach this horse to pray. I know that you can do it. Come back in a month with the horse and we will collect our money. Woe to you if you fail!"
Moshe tried to reason with the drunken landowner, but to no avail. He took the horse to his home despairing of the future.
His wife greeted him asking why he looked so depressed. Moshe explained the wager and what he was requested to do and the veiled threat if he did not succeed.
"What is the problem?" his wife answered, "those men do not know what prayer is. Train the horse to bow, and rock and to turn the pages of the prayer book with his tongue and they will think that he is praying."
"Maybe your right. What do I have to loose?" So Moshe took the horse and worked on training him to mimic a Jew praying.
At the appointed day, all the wealthy landowners assembled, looking forward to wining a bet. Moshe came in and set up a podium. He placed a prayer book on it an opened it to the proper page. Next he brought in the horse. He placed a skullcap on its head and a prayer shawl over its long neck.
The horse took three steps forward, bowed and began rocking as if in meditation and contemplation of the Creator. After a few moments, the horse extended his long tongue and swish, he turned the page. Continuing rocking in the best traditional Jewish style of prayer he swooshed again with his large tongue and turned the page again. This continued for several minutes until the horse bowed again and took three steps backwards and stopped.
"Hurrah!" screamed the host; "I have won my bet! Pay up!"
"Not so fast," the other land-owners replied, "the horse was not praying!"
"What do you mean! Of course he was! We saw with our very own eyes!"
"That's not praying. The horse is merely rocking and turning pages. Prayer means also an expression of the heart. This is not prayer!"
"What do you mean that it is not prayer! It certainly is!"
"Never mind," the men said, "we are not going to pay you any money unless you can find some place where people actually pray like this. No one prays like this!"
"Wait a minute," the Dubno Magid replied, "there is a place that they pray like this. In Homel they pray like this!"
We all possess a bit of the two groups. Sometimes we pray with spontaneity and deep feeling. At other times we merely discharge our duty while telling ourself that we are still praying correctly. When we know the truth, that we are more like the above mentioned horse than a man, we have an advantage.
from the May 2000 Passover Edition of the Jewish Magazine