Many long months had passed since the last rain had fallen over the parched gardens and orchards of Jerusalem. Rabbi Shalom, the city’s respected leader, announced that a communal prayer would be held in the central synagogue the next day, where they would beseech G‑d to bring them rain. Rabbi Shalom sent a special messenger to one of the city’s most esteemed residents, Rabbi Gershon Kitover, brother-in-law of the Baal Shem Tov, and asked him to lead the prayers.

The custom in Jerusalem of old was for the chazzan to prepare words of inspiration and deliver them to the congregation before leading the service. As was typical for those times, public words of inspiration were always peppered with direct quotes from Scripture and Talmud. If the speaker misquoted even one passage, shame was heaped upon his head by the exacting and erudite Jerusalemites.

Rabbi Gershon took to his task in earnest, spending the entire night preparing his remarks and ensuring he was fluent in all the passages he planned to cite. Unfortunately, the next morning he awoke with a sore throat and was barely able to talk. He summoned his son, Reb Leib, and told him, “Please go to Rabbi Shalom and tell him that I will not be able to lead the prayers.”

As a result, the whole program fell apart, the communal prayer was canceled, and everyone ended up praying as usual in their respective synagogues.

Rabbi Shalom was praying in his own synagogue, when suddenly, the unmistakable voice of Rabbi Gershon, one of his regular congregants, could be heard loudly and clearly from behind him. Apparently, his sore throat had healed and he was well enough to pray aloud.

When the substitute chazzan finished the silent Amidah, Rabbi Shalom asked if he would step down and allow Rabbi Gershon to take over, which he did.

Rabbi Gershon energetically led the congregation in repeating the Amidah and the subsequent Selichot prayers reserved for times of dire need. Curiously, as soon as he had started reciting the Selichot prayers, Rabbi Gershon stepped down and didn’t want to carry on.

When the prayers concluded, Reb Leib turned to his father and asked, “Why did you step down? What happened?”

“When I started chanting the Selichot prayers,” replied Rabbi Gershon, “I realized that the prayer was rolling off my tongue and I felt that if I continued, it would immediately begin raining. But then I realized that if that happened, it would surely inflate my ego, ‘Look how pious Rabbi Gershon is,’ people would say, ‘his prayers are answered immediately!’

“I would have none of that, so I stepped down right away.

“But don’t worry,” Rabbi Gershon confided in his son, “I was able to discern from on High that it is anyway destined to rain soon for two or three days straight, so everyone will be none the wiser.”