The kabbalists explain that there are three ways to connect and draw Light from righteous souls who have left this world: visiting their resting place, reading from their words of wisdom, or reading stories about them. With each story read we not only draw from the Light that these righteous souls revealed, but also the gift of the lesson taught by that kabbalist.
The great Kabbalist Baal Shem Tov used to travel from town to town across Ukraine. Often, he would have no set destination, and his feet or his horse would guide him to the town and house where he was meant to stop. Always, there would be someone in need, some lesson to teach, some piece of wisdom to impart and share.
Once, he stopped by a simple-looking house and knocked on the door. A woman greeted him with warmth.
“I’m sorry to trouble you, but may I stay the night?” the Baal Shem Tov asked.
“Of course, it would be our pleasure!” she answered, not even knowing who he was. “Please come in, make yourself at home. My husband Jacob will be with you as soon as he is finished his afternoon prayer.”
So, the Baal Shem Tov entered, sat down, and waited to speak to the husband. The minutes turned to hours as the Baal Shem Tov wondered where Jacob was. The afternoon prayer was not very long, even if, like the Baal Shem Tov himself, one spent extra time on the meditations and consciousness.
Eventually, Jacob arrived, apologizing profusely for the long wait. “You see,” he explained, “I don’t really know how to pray very well. I was never taught where the morning prayers end and the afternoon prayers begin, and where the afternoon prayers end, and the evening ones begin. So, to make sure I always do the right prayer, I say everything in the prayer book from beginning to end, three times a day! Although it does quite extend my prayer time significantly.”
“For your kind hosting, I would be more than happy to teach you the secrets of the prayers, if you’d like,” the Baal Shem Tov said. “I’ll show you where each prayer begins and ends, where to skip and where to add, where to meditate for sustenance and where for healing.”
Jacob’s face lit up at this suggestion. Finally, he’d be able to pray properly! For the first time, he could make the Creator happy in doing the prayers the correct way!
For half the night, they sat together, annotating his prayer book, placing additional pages with instructions and guidelines, and eventually retiring for the night.
The following morning, the Baal Shem Tov bid his farewell and went on his way. Not long after, Jacob was walking with such excitement and happiness, prayer book in hand, and tripped over a table leg. His prayer book flew in the air, pages scattering everywhere, notes misplaced and all over the floor.
Oh no! he thought, mortified. How will I ever figure out which page goes where?
Not giving up, he grabbed the scattered pages, what was left of his prayer book, and ran after the Baal Shem Tov. From a distance, he saw the Baal Shem Tov stop by a lake at the edge of town. He saw the Baal Shem Tov place a handkerchief on the ground, step on it, and the handkerchief carried him across the lake. (Unbeknownst to our simple friend, the Baal Shem Tov had awakened angels to carry him across the water, through his very high spiritual state. A master of miracles, the Baal Shem Tov only ever used these angels to help others and reach destinations where others needed his blessings and assistance, and never for personal gain.)
The only thought running through Jacob’s mind was his burning desire to reach the Baal Shem Tov and help him fix his prayer book. He wanted so badly to connect to the Creator in the right way, the proper way, that logic didn’t enter his mind. He, too, placed a handkerchief on the ground, stepped on it, and it carried him across the water.
Catching up to the Baal Shem Tov and entirely out of breath, Jacob placed the scattered pages and notes into the Baal Shem Tov’s hands and begged him to fix them. The Baal Shem Tov stared at him with bemusement. Surely, someone who did not even know which pages went where would not have known the proper meditations and names of the angels to awaken their assistance.
“How exactly did you cross the lake so fast?”
“Oh,” Jacob replied, thinking back. “I just…I saw you place the handkerchief down, so I just did what you did! Was I not supposed to do that? Please will you still help me fix my prayers even if I’ve made a mistake?”
The Baal Shem Tov smiled, light beaming from his face. “I think your prayers are fine just the way they are.”
The Baal Shem Tov is regarded as one of the greatest Kabbalists in the last few centuries because he revolutionized spirituality. He taught that it didn’t matter if you said all the words correctly or in the right order. It didn’t matter if you had sunk to the lowest depths or had a history filled with negative actions.
What mattered was your desire to connect to the Light of the Creator. Your desire to be better and do better than your yesterday. What mattered was that you made space in your heart for the Creator, regardless of knowledge or wisdom, or understanding. Certainly, when it came to prayer, it didn’t matter if you pronounced things correctly or at the right time. He taught that consciousness, desire, and simplicity were the keys to unlocking blessings and miracles.
Yes, there are windows in time at specific moments, and yes, there are detailed meditations and prayers prescribed by Kabbalists and sages. But the Creator isn’t waiting with a watch, checking to see if you made it on time, rejecting late, incomplete, or mispronounced prayers. God doesn’t need our prayers or meditations to know what is truly in our hearts. Like Jacob crossing the lake with his simple desire to connect, we too hold within us the power for greatness. All we have to do to achieve it is let go of perfection and let God. Because with a pure heart, we rise to the elevated levels of the great Kabbalists, where miracles become the norm.
May the merit of the Baal Shem Tov awaken our simple desire for the Light of the Creator and allow our souls to soar to greater and greater heights.