By Rabbi Dovid Markel
There was once a chossid of the fourth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch, that had a private audience with the Rebbe in which he requested that the Rebbe guide him with a way to serve G-d in prayer.
The Rebbe told him: “When you pray, be sure to hold the siddur in your hand, and pray from the siddur (prayer book).”
Now this chossid was a great scholar and a little haughty. He was a bit offended by what seemed to be advice that was apropos for a simple Jew. He told the Rebbe that he believes that if he closes his eyes he will be able to shut himself from the outside world and have much loftier intentions.
To this the Rebbe rejoined” What then will be your intentions—“praise G-d on the beam?!”
With this the young chossid left the audience in a state of confusion as he had no idea what the Rebbe meant in his cryptic words. The chossid turned to the older and wiser chassidim, yet they too were unable to untangle the riddle.
Unable to understand the Rebbe’s statement the chossid sat down deep in thought for many hours with the hope that maybe he can figure out what the Rebbe could have possibly meant.
Suddenly the chossid became anxious when he finally understood what the Rebbe had meant. He realized that the Rebbe had been correct in his assessment that he wasn’t at the spiritual level that he thought he had been on.
Once, this chossid had been praying in the synagogue, passing back and forth as he uttered the words of his prayers. As he was walking he had noticed a beam that extended from one end of the synagogue to the other. In his juvenile execution of his prayers he had attempted to say an entire “haleluka” (praise G-d) while he was walking on this singular beam.
Greatly humbled, he realized the depth of the Rebbe’s advice that he pray from the siddur and not have the hubris to believe that he was greater than he truly was.
(see P’ninei HaKeser, 2, Pg. 78)