The Shofar


Some 250 years ago in the town of Mezhibuzh, the Baal Shem Tov - the founder of Chassidut - sat secluded in intense study with one of his chassidim, Reb Wolff Kitzis.

The Baal Shem Tov had chosen Reb Wolff for the honor of blowing the shofar on Rosh Hashanah. With just a day to go before the awesome day was to begin, the Baal Shem Tov was now teaching his disciple all the secret hidden meanings that he should meditate upon while sounding the various blasts.

But despite his sincere efforts to master the many mystical meanings, Reb Wolff was no kabbalist. It was impossible for him to remember by heart what to meditate upon with which blast, and so he decided to write everything down on a little piece of paper. That way, when the time came, he would be able to use his notes to jog his memory.

The Baal Shem Tov, however, was displeased when he saw what Reb Wolff was doing - for divine secrets such as these were not meant to be recorded for all eyes to see. But he did not say a word to his chassid.

The study session came to an end, and Reb Wolff stuffed the slip of paper into his coat pocket. The Baal Shem Tov watched as his disciple made his way down the path. When Reb Wolff had gone about half way, he stopped to take a handkerchief out of his pocket and - unbeknownst to him - the little slip of paper came flying out, too.

Reb Wolff continued on his way, while the slip of paper was carried by a gust of wind to a nearby stream. Now that the Baal Shem Tov was sure that the writing was being washed away by the waters of the stream, he was able to regain his usual composure.

The awesome moment of blowing the shofar in the synagogue finally arrived, and Reb Wolff made his way to the bimah (podium) with trembling knees. He was well aware of the great responsibility that had been placed upon him, and thankful that he had had the foresight to write down all the divine mysteries. When he reached inside his pocket for the little slip of paper, however, he began to tremble even more - for, of course, the paper was not there.

But slip of paper or no slip of paper, Reb Wolff still had a job to do. With a broken heart he began the solemn task of sounding the shofar. But with each blast of the shofar a new burst of tears began to flow down his face, because he was so saddened that he could not remember even a single divine mystery that he had been taught.

After the shofar service was over, Reb Wolff humbly returned to his seat. He was too ashamed to look the Baal Shem Tov in the eye, for his heart ached that he had let down his rebbe and the entire congregation.

The Baal Shem Tov came up to Reb Wolff after all the morning prayers were over, and to Reb Wolff's amazement, the face of the Baal Shem Tov glowed with happiness.

"You should know," the Baal Shem Tov said to his chassid, "that in a king's palace there are many locked rooms and each room has its own key. But there is one implement that can open all the doors of the palace and that is an ax.

"So, too, in the World Above there are numerous gates to the King's palace," the Baal Shem Tov continued. "The kabbalistic mysteries I taught you, the kavanos, are the keys to these gates. But just as an ax can break through every door in this world below, there is one thing that can open all the gates of all the heavenly palaces above. Do you know what that one thing is, Reb Wolff?"

Reb Wolff was still so overcome by emotion that he could only shake his head "no" in reply.

"It is a broken and humble heart," said the Baal Shem Tov. "With your tears, you opened all the gates of Heaven and brought down upon us a myriad of blessings for the coming year."



ŠLibi Astaire

reprinted with permission

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