With What Did You Pray?

By Rabbi Dovid Markel


Once, after Rosh HaShana, the 2nd Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Dovber had a discussion with his father, the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi:

The Alter Rebbe asked his son: “Berele, with what did you pray on Rosh HaShanah?” His son replied: “I prayed, contemplating on the idiom “and all with posture shall prostrate before you,” which expresses the tremendous humility that one must have before G-d.”

Having answered the question, the son continued to ask: “And you, father, with what did you pray?” “I prayed with the lectern (shtender),” he answered.

While it may seem that the Alter Rebbe was averting from answering the question and merely responding humorously, in fact, the Alter Rebbe was expressing a deeper sense of nullification before G-d—one where literally every aspect of the universe is expressive of G-d’s unity and is created to serve Him.

It is this statement that is the crux of the liturgy of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur: “Our G-d…be exalted over the earth in Your splendor, and reveal Yourself in the majesty of Your glorious might over all the inhabitants of Your terrestrial world. May everything that has been made know that You have made it; may everything that has been created understand that You have created it; and may everyone who has the breath in his nostrils declare that the Lord, G-d of Israel, is King and His Kingship has dominion over all.”

On Rosh HaShanah we proclaim G-d’s kingship over the world; that not only is G-d infinitely transcendent, exalted and above the world, but perhaps more importantly that G-d is expressed in each and every detail of creation—the ultimate expression of G-d’s immanence.

It was this lesson that the Alter Rebbe was teaching his son; not only should he realize that all that is extremely humbled before G-d in its realization of its own insignificance but that all that there is expresses the essence of G-d Himself—so to speak.

Just as on Rosh HaShanah we must bridge this paradox of immanence and transcendence, revealing that an inapproachable G-d is ever present and approachable, so too with the coming of moshiach; when we study Chassidic thought which describes the relationship of G-d and Israel in the most coherent of terms we prepare for a time when (Zecharya 14:9) “the Lord shall become King over all the earth; on that day shall the Lord be one, and His name one.” May it happen speedily in our times!

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