Weekly Chasidic Story #821 (s5773-50 / 13 Elul 5773)

The Partnership Prayer

The Baal Shem Tov entered the study hall, but instead of opening his prayer book he remaining standing, lost in thought.

Connection: Seasonal — Shabbat is Chai (18) Elul, the anniversary of the birth of the Baal Shem Tov in 1698, his personal revelation of a heavenly teacher in 1724, and his public revelation of the Chasidic movement in 1734.

The month of Elul was drawing to a close. The “scent” of the High Holidays was already in the air and everyone was busy getting ready as best they could. The marketplace was overflowing with merchandise and seasonal produce, including the special fruits that are traditionally eaten on Rosh Hashana, such as pomegranates. Homes were being swept from top to bottom and new clothes were fitted and sewn.

At the same time, the Jews prepared themselves spiritually for the coming year. This was serious business; more attention was paid to praying with a minyan, refraining from gossip and in general, improving behavior.

Inside the study hall of the Baal Shem Tov, the final preparations before Rosh Hashana were also underway. Prayers were recited with increased devotion, and all thoughts were focused on returning to G-d in repentance.

One evening, a few days before Rosh Hashana, his disciples were getting ready to pray the evening service. At precisely the appointed hour the Baal Shem Tov entered the study hall, but instead of opening his prayer book he remaining standing, lost in thought.

The minutes ticked by and still the Baal Shem Tov seemed distracted, as if he were in another world. His holy face was suffused with intense emotion. Of course, no one dared mention that it was time to pray; the disciples were already used to such things.

When the Baal Shem Tov suddenly roused himself almost an hour later and opened his prayer book, his countenance was shining with joy. That evening, the Baal Shem Tov prayed with unusual intensity and longing. It was obvious that something of great magnitude had occurred.

After the service the Baal Shem Tov explained:

“Not very far from here,” he began, “lives a Jew who grew up in a traditional Jewish home. But as he grew older, he began to associate with the local peasants. Slowly he abandoned the Jewish path till he was virtually indistinguishable from the gentiles and completely estranged from his roots.

“Many years passed. The man left the province where he was born and went to live in a totally non-Jewish environment. As time passed, he forgot everything about the Jewish way of life, its prayers and its customs. Altogether, 30 years elapsed.

“Tonight,” the Baal Shem Tov revealed, “this Jew happened to be visiting a Jewish town on business. As soon as he entered the village he could sense the commotion, and this aroused his curiosity.
When he asked a passer-by what was going on the man answered, ‘Everyone is getting ready for a holiday we call Rosh Hashana. According to Jewish tradition, it is the day on which man was created and the whole world is judged.’

“For some reason this explanation struck a chord in the heart of the assimilated Jew. Maybe it was the exclusionary ‘we’ that emphasized the huge chasm that separated him from his brethren, or perhaps the mere mention of the Day of Judgment. In any event, the man’s soul was inexplicably awakened, and he was flooded with memories of his childhood.

“As he wandered through the marketplace he was suddenly stricken by the horrifying realization that he had exchanged a life rich in meaning for an empty existence. At that moment he looked up, and was surprised to find himself standing outside the main synagogue. By then it was almost dark, and men were arriving to pray the evening service.

“The man was seized by an overwhelming desire to join them, but he was also embarrassed by his non-Jewish appearance. In the end the urge to pray won out, and he went into the women’s section, which was empty then for the weeknight prayer, and hid behind the curtain.

“As the cantor chanted the words ‘And He atones for sin…’ a shudder passed through the man’s body. How he wished to pray, but the words were long forgotten. Tears streamed down his cheeks. When the last congregant had gone home he couldn’t bear it any longer and burst out crying. ‘Master of the universe!’ he wept. ‘I know there is no greater sinner than I, but I also know that You are merciful and full of loving-kindness. Heavenly Father, forgive me my transgressions and I will sin no more. I wish to return to You and live as a Jew. Please accept my prayer and do not turn me away!’

“The man’s heartfelt repentance caused a great commotion in the celestial realms,” the Baal Shem Tov explained, “and his prayer ascended to the very Throne of Glory. In fact, it was so powerful that it brought along with it many other prayers that had been waiting hundreds of years to ascend.

“When I sensed what was going on in the man’s heart,” the Baal Shem Tov concluded, “I decided to wait for him to pray so I could join him. Tonight’s service was delayed so we could merit to pray with a true penitent!”
Source: Adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from // (#985), with permission.

Biographical note:
Rabbi Yisrael ben Eliezer (18 Elul 1698-6 Sivan 1760), the Baal Shem Tov [“master of the good Name”], a unique and seminal figure in Jewish history, revealed the Chassidic movement and his own identity as an exceptionally holy person, on his 36th birthday, 18 Elul 1734. He wrote no books, although many claim to contain his teachings. One available in English is the excellent annotated translation ofTzava’at Harivash, published by Kehot.

Connection: Seasonal — Shabbat is Chai (18) Elul, the anniversary of the birth of the Baal Shem Tov in 1698, his personal revelation of a heavenly teacher in 1724, and his public revelation of the Chasidic movement in 1734.


Yerachmiel Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and chief editor of this website (and of He has hundreds of published stories to his credit, and many have been translated into other languages. He tells them live at Ascent nearly every Saturday night.