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The Master Key

The Master Key


One year, Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov said to Rabbi Ze’ev Kitzes, one of his senior disciples: “You will blow the shofar for us this Rosh Hashanah. I want you to study all the kavanot (Kabbalistic meditations) that pertain to the shofar, so that you should meditate upon them when you do the blowing.”

Rabbi Ze’ev applied himself to the task with joy and trepidation: joy over the great privilege that had been accorded him, and trepidation over the immensity of the responsibility. He studied the Kabbalistic writings that discuss the multifaceted significance of the shofar and what its sounds achieve on the various levels of reality and in the various chambers of the soul. He also prepared a sheet of paper on which he noted the main points of each kavanah, so that he could refer to them when he blew the shofar.

Finally, the great moment arrived. It was the morning of Rosh Hashanah, and Rabbi Ze’ev stood on the reading platform in the center of the Baal Shem Tov’s synagogue amidst the Torah scrolls, surrounded by a sea of tallit-draped bodies. At his table in the southeast corner of the room stood his master, the Baal Shem Tov, his face aflame. An awed silence filled the room in anticipation of the climax of the day—the piercing blasts and sobs of the shofar.

Rabbi Ze’ev reached into his pocket, and his heart froze: the paper had disappeared! He distinctly remembered placing it there that morning, but now it was gone. Furiously, he searched his memory for what he had learned, but his distress over the lost notes seemed to have incapacitated his brain: his mind was a total blank. Tears of frustration filled his eyes. He had disappointed his master, who had entrusted him with this most sacred task. Now he must blow the shofar like a simple horn, without any kavanot. With a despairing heart, Rabbi Ze’ev blew the litany of sounds required by law and, avoiding his master’s eye, resumed his place.

At the conclusion of the day’s prayers, the Baal Shem Tov made his way to the corner where Rabbi Ze’ev sat sobbing under his tallit. “Gut Yom Tov, Reb Ze’ev!” he called. “That was a most extraordinary shofar-blowing we heard today!”

“But Rebbe . . . I . . .”

“In the king’s palace,” said the Baal Shem Tov, “there are many gates and doors, leading to many halls and chambers. The palace-keepers have great rings holding many keys, each of which opens a different door. But there is one key that fits all the locks, a master key that opens all the doors.

“The kavanot are keys, each unlocking another door in our souls, each accessing another chamber in the supernal worlds. But there is one key that unlocks all doors, that opens up for us the innermost chambers of the divine palace. That master key is a broken heart.”

From Rabbi S. Y. Zevin’s Sippurei Chassidim; translation/adaptation by Yanki Tauber.
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Discussion (28)
September 3, 2016
we can all do it
very inspiring. we don't need to have lofty kavonos- just feel broken hearted- but really feel it- let your heart open up, and feel intense sincerity to do the right thing, as well as remorse over what you have done, and you can accomplish so much bez"H.
melbourne, australia
September 8, 2013
the broken heart
I like it that the word Amen is within Amend. I believe the amend meant in life, to mend a broken heart, is to realize we are needed by Hashem, as much as we need Hashem. And maybe that's an unOrthodox view. I heard a rabbi on Rosh Hashonah say, G_d doesn't need us, we need G_d. But I have learned that is not quite true. Why do you think, G_d created the world?

There was something very interesting that happened for me. I saw the word Rosh Hashanah as written this way, in the synagogue program, and I was thinking how, Hanah runs backwards and forwards in the name itself. And what happened? There was a deep discussion of Hannah and the meaning of her plea, to be no longer barren, about Samuel, and the gift she bore. I know, this was NOT random. And I often wonder, in writing so much about love down the lines, if there is anybody on the receiving end, and why it is, I would get a story, so brilliant and not be allowed to share it as in receipt.
ruth housman
marshfield hills, ma
September 7, 2013
G-d is always ready to assist us when we perform His deeds.
Indeed it's a beautiful story: the master key -according to Baal Shem Tov- is a broken heart. What I've learnt is that G-d is able to put us up to rise to the occasion. Surely G-d listen to Rabbi Ze’ev's heart and moves his lips to blow the whole letany of the shofar with blasts that showed his passion and commitment to Him.
Jorge Munuzuri
September 3, 2013
Truth is true, Helly, I am one with your insight and your experience.
beneath the thick skins and hides of the ego lies the heart pure and undefiled and the pain we feel is because we have covered it up with what we are not, with all our pretenses and lies, and faulty thinking, or errors of perception. The pain of a broken heart is the pain of having lived what was not Real. What an opportunity, indeed to be more fully alive, to realize the divine essence of our Soul beneath and through the senses that so easily imprison us with their temporality.
arnie gerstein
September 2, 2013
Re reading a beautiful story
I came to this again. This story is painful in its exquisite beauty. I think it is a gem. Interesting how each year the light burns in a new way on returning to a story of such depth.
ruth housman
marshfield, ma
December 24, 2012
A broken heart
Awesome !!!

“In the king’s palace,” said the Baal Shem Tov, “there are many gates and doors, leading to many halls and chambers. The palace-keepers have great rings holding many keys, each of which opens a different door. But there is one key that fits all the locks, a master key that opens all the doors.
September 20, 2012
A Broken Heart
It's about what happens to us in life. Loss, the pain of losing someone, someone betrays your trust, loneliness... The litany of things that do involve love and how love is affected in deep ways. It could be cruelty too. And the accidents that befall people that are really upsetting to a degree that causes us such pain. I think it's fairly clear hearts are broken in this way all the time.
ruth housman
marshfield, ma
September 19, 2012
Purpose of a so-called broken heart
A heart can never breaks only our concept or image of what a heart is, of what love is. When we let go of trying to control others, to get value and validation, all because we still believe we are unworthy, not good enough, do we realize the heart was always pure and free and good.

But we would rather hold onto a broken-hearted the past and suffer regret than reclaim the purity of our hearts. So in this light we can take a new look at Tshuvah in our lives, if we want to..
arnie gerstein
Sturgis, Michigan
September 16, 2012
The Master Key
How do you get a broken heart?
September 11, 2012
So true. I have come to realize that where the heart is broken, that is where the light shines through.
Sharon Lockwood-Habram
Tucson, AZ