Rav Levi Yitzchak's Lessons on Prayer
By Rabbi Yehudah Prero
The prayers on Rosh Hashanah differ from the rest of the year. Some passages
appear unfamiliar, with words and sentences we are not accustomed to. While
it is incumbent upon us to properly prepare for this holy day, we all know
that each of us has some limitations. The following lessons from Rav Levi
Yitzchak of Berditchev shed some light on how we can make the most of our
Everyone assembled in the synagogue was awaiting this moment. Their spiritual
leader, the sainted Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev was going to sound the
Shofar himself this year. They knew of his dedication to G-d. They knew of
his piety. They knew that there was no more worthy person to lead the
congregation in this special Mitzvah on this holy day.
Rav Levi Yitzchak readied himself for this task of utmost importance. He
immersed in the Mikvah, purifying himself in preparation for this hallowed
duty. When the time came for him to blow the Shofar, he looked angelic,
garbed in his white Kittel, enveloped in his Tallis. He recited the
introductory prayers with utmost concentration, inspiring the entire
congregation to do so with him. He then read a prefatory portion of the Zohar
with heartfelt emotion. Now was the time for the blowing of the Shofar. The
entire congregation stood with anticipation and trepidation, awaiting the
blessings and the first sounds of the Shofar. But they did not come.
Rav Levi Yitzchak did not recite the blessings. Instead, he placed the Shofar
back down on the table before him. A few moments passed, and he again picked
up the Shofar. He readied himself to recite the blessing. He hesitated, and
then placed the Shofar down once again. After some time had passed, Rav Levi
Yitzchak turned to the confused assembled.
"My friends," he said, "there is seated here today a man. This man is not
like you or me. He was separated from his family in his youth, and has no
background or familiarity with his religion. He does not know how to read
Hebrew, let alone pray. He knows that today is Rosh Hashanah, a day to pray to
G-d, and he therefore joined us. Standing here, he saw the entire
congregation immersed in meaningful and earnest prayer. He felt a jealousy, a
burning feeling of envy, because he could not participate with the
congregation. This man turned his head towards heaven, and cried his heart
'Our merciful Father, You know all the sincere prayers, the depths of the
feelings with which they are uttered, the meanings and implications of each
and every word. The only thing I know are the 22 letters of the Alef-Bet. My
prayer to You, on this holiest of days, is all that I know: Alef, Bet, Gimel,
etc.. Please G-d, in Your abundant kindness, join together these letters to
formulate a prayer for me.'"
"You should know," Rav Levi Yitzchak said, "that this is the reason for my
hesitation. G-d is in the midst of assembling this purest of pure prayers.
While G-d joins together the letters uttered from the mouth of this righteous
man, we must wait."
G-d values all pure prayer. Our Sages formulated prayers in a specific
fashion, with a precise composition, as they were aware of the deep
implications and spiritual ramifications of the words. Yet, prayer without
heart is prayer without soul.
The word was out: Rav Levi Yitzchak was looking for an individual to blow the
Shofar for Rav Levi Yitzchak and his followers on this Rosh HaShana. Many
people were thrilled to be presented with this opportunity. They made
appointments to "interview" with Rav Levi Yitzchak for this esteemed
The day of the interview came. All the candidates gathered together in a
room, and were called in one by one by Rav Levi Yitzchak. With each one, he
asked a similar question: What are you thinking about while you blow the
Shofar? Each aspirant answered similarly, displaying his vast knowledge of
the deep concentrations and metaphysical meanings upon which to focus during
the blowing. Rav Levi Yitzchak, however, was not satisfied with any of the
Rav Levi Yitzchak noticed a man who was standing silently in the corner of
the room, shifting uncomfortably, with a nervous look on his face. Rav Levi
Yitzchak called him over, and asked him the same question. "Rebbe," he
responded, "I am merely a simple Jew. I have daughters to marry off. I am a
poor man with no money for their dowries. When the time comes for the
sounding of the Shofar, I mentally utter the following prayer: Father in
Heaven, I have done Your will, and I am blowing before You the Shofar.
Please, if You could, do for me the same - please send me fitting husbands
for my daughters!' "
A large smile broke across the face of Rav Levi Yitzchak. "Excellent!" he
said. "You have the correct and true feelings in mind when you blow the
Shofar. You are the type of person I am looking for to blow the Shofar!"
May all of our prayers find favor in the eyes of G-d during this High Holiday
(stories adapted from Birkas Chayim)
Mazel Tov to Rabbi and Mrs. Moshe and Chaya Zwick upon the engagement of
their daughter Rachel Leah to Gil Neuman, son of Drs. Shlomo and Yael Neuman.
May the couple merit to build a Bayis Ne'eman B'Yisroel!
With prayers for a Refu'ah Shelaimah, a speedy recovery, for Esther Malka bas
Freida, and wishes for a happy and healthy new year to all.
K'siva V'Chasima Tova!
Rabbi and Mrs. Yehudah Prero and family
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For questions, comments, and topic requests, please write to Rabbi Yehudah Prero.