Krias Shema and Shoes

The Mashpia (Chassidic mentor) in Tomchei Temim was Reb Michoel Bliner, generally referred to as Reb Michoel der Alter (the elder). The following[1] is a story that is expressive of his personality:

Once, when Reb Michoel was in the midst of his prayers, a cobbler entered the yeshiva study hall. In his prayers, Reb  Michoel was holding at the section before the recitation of Shema, which discusses the unity of G-d and is a section where it is generally forbidden to make an interruption.

In Chassidic thought, this point in the prayers is of tremendous importance, as it discusses G-d’s complete oneness and is generally a time when those steeped in Chassidus are in their deepest state of meditative rapture and contemplation on the Divine.

Nevertheless, notwithstanding the section of prayer where he was holding, Reb Michoel motioned to the cobbler to fix the tattered shoes of a certain student.

After the prayers, the students asked Reb Michoel, “How is it that you interrupted the most focal part of the prayers to deal with a matter of shoes? Instead of thinking of G-d, you were thinking of the most mundane matters!”

Reb Michoel answered them: “What truly is G-d’s unity? How can an individual truly know that they are permeated with the oneness of the Almighty—if one cannot rest or sit on their laurels until another person’s torn shoes are fixed. Only when one is genuinely focused on another person are they expressing G-d’s unity. Focusing on another person’s shoes in prayers is not an interruption of the prayers but a very expression of it.”


[1] Reb Mendel, Pg. 218


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