One year, Rabbi Yisrael Ba’al Shem Tov said to Rabbi Ze’eiv 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 shofar so that you should meditate upon them when you do the blowing.”

Rabbi Ze’eiv 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. He also prepared a sheet of paper on which he noted the main points of each kavanah — devotional intent — 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’eiv stood on the bimah — reading platform — in the center of the Ba’al 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 Ba’al 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’eiv 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. He had to blow the shofar like a simple horn, without any kavanot. With a despairing heart, Rabbi Ze’eiv blew the sounds required by halachah, and avoiding his master’s eye, resumed his place.

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

“But Rebbe...Why...?”

“In the king’s palace,” said Rabbi Yisrael, “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 a master key that opens all the doors. The kavanot are keys, each unlocks a door and accesses another chamber in the supernal worlds. But there is one key which unlocks all doors and which can open the innermost chambers of the Divine palace. That master key is a broken heart.”

(סיפורי חסידים, מועדים)