One sunny Shabbat morning 20 years ago, I awoke to find myself standing in shul, enwrapped in a tallit with prayer book in hand. I hadn't actually arisen from sleep, but rather from an absorbing daydream in which I was speculating about the possible results of an experiment that I had planned for the following week. Although the experience was hardly novel, it crystallized and defined for me a religious crisis that had been lurking in my subconscious for some time.

How was it possible, on Shabbat, a day of transcendent holiness and limitless spiritual possibilities, to stand before one's Creator and to address Him in prayer without so much as a thought to what one is doing. If I were standing before--l'havdil--the Dean of Medicine, my mouth would be dry, my heart rate would be elevated and the rest of the world would disappear from my consciousness as if it didn't exist. How could I be so blasé about an encounter with the Almighty? Where was the awe and love? Where was the excitement? How was it possible to put on a tallit with no more deliberation than that required for putting on one's shirt? What was wrong with me?

Although advice was abundant, the problem remained. I was told that I was expecting too much and that I should be happy with what I had accomplished. I was advised to concentrate more deeply on talmudic learning, to not focus so much on talmudic learning, to take regular exercise and get more sleep, and to visit a cemetery so that I would learn to appreciate the great gift of life. I was told that the fervor for which I yearned no longer existed and one rabbinic friend even suggested that I was better off without intense feeling since emotion interferes with technical performance of the mitzvot. Apparently our relationship with G‑d is expected to settle into a comfortable, if prosaic, routine defined as normative orthodox observance.

One Shabbat I walked into Shul and saw a chassid standing at the back. He had his tallit over his shoulder and was obviously preparing for prayer. I gave him little thought until three and a half hours later when I got ready to leave for home. The chassid was standing in the same place with his tallit still over his shoulder. He hadn't yet begun his prayers. His eyes were closed and his face burned with a spiritual intensity that I had never before seen. I was thrilled. I could not imagine what sort of contemplation brought him to such a state of spiritual awakening, but it clearly had nothing to do with cholent or kugel, which were my main preoccupations at noontime on Shabbat.

In this chassid, I had found half the answer to my problem. I now knew that fiery devotion in the service of G‑d was, in fact, achievable, although I couldn't fathom how. Here was a man who knew before Whom he was standing. I took great comfort in surreptitiously watching my chassid, and for a while I was content with the simple knowledge that such a person existed. After observing him for a few weeks, I got up the nerve to go over and introduce myself.

I had no idea of what his response would be and I was more than a little uneasy. Before I could open my mouth, he put his hand on my shoulder and said, "I know what you want. You want to see the koach hapoel b'hanifal (roughly, 'the power of the Creator in Creation')." Before I could answer, he told me that he would come to my house on the following Thursday night and begin studying Chassidus with me. Thus began my 20 year love affair with Chassidic teaching.