In the previous letter, the Alter Rebbe explained how the Torah study of a group of at least ten, or a mitzvah performed by them collectively, brings about the indwelling of the Shechinah. He spoke of how even those who engage in the avodah of prayer sometimes spend the time before and after prayers in idle chatter. Indeed, the Mishnah calls such a group “a company of scoffers” since they are not studying Torah. The Alter Rebbe therefore urged that regular times be set aside between Minchah and Maariv for the group study of Ein Yaakov and of laws of practical application in the Shulchan Aruch.

In the present letter, the Alter Rebbe goes on to condemn those who during prayer services engage in mundane conversation—not only on idle matters but even on matters that are necessary for their livelihood. Such conversation at any other time would of course be permitted. During prayer services, however, it demonstrates that the speaker has no desire to behold the G‑dliness that is revealed specifically during that time.

This insensitivity is depicted by a parable drawn from the Zohar. For years on end, a terrestial king hides his majestic splendor behind locked doors; those of his subjects who have the discernment to value that splendor eagerly wait there for years on end until they are granted a glimpse of it; others are so foolish and so brazen that they show no interest.

For the time of prayer is a precious time below, echoing a propitious time Above. Above, as the Alter Rebbe states in the Tanya, Part I, ch. 12, it is a time of mochin degadlut, a time of sublime illumination in the upper worlds; below, therefore, it is the time when every individual can respond to the call which the King issues to His subjects.

If one is to receive the revelation which becomes possible at the time of prayer, that time needs to be utilized for meditation on the greatness of G‑d. But if this meditation is to be fertile and give birth to the spiritual emotions of love and awe, it still needs to find its way into the worshipper’s heart. This is the message of the following brief teaching of the Alter Rebbe.

There is an expression of our Sages: אִם כִּיוֵּן לִבּוֹ—“If one had the proper intention (kiven libo), he has fulfilled his obligation.”1 Now, כיון shares a root with the Aramaic כוין (kavin), meaning “windows.”2 Accordingly, in the above-quoted teaching of the Sages, the Alter Rebbe read the following message: A man fulfills his obligation during prayer only if he has made a window in his heart so that the revelation that illuminates his mind during prayer will radiate its warmth into his heart.

24 My beloved ones, my brethren:

כד אֲהוּבַיי, אַחַיי,

I beg of you, friends who are beloved unto their Maker and hateful unto their evil inclination: Do no wrong!

אַל נָא תָּרֵעוּ. רֵיעִים הָאֲהוּבִים לְיוֹצְרָם וּשְׂנוּאִים לְיִצְרָם.

Surely, one should respect the wishes of his Beloved and not of his enemy.

Let no one make himself wicked before G‑d during that one hour (i.e., the hour of prayer) that He has chosen of all day,

וְאַל יַעֲשֶׂה אָדָם עַצְמוֹ רָשָׁע שָׁעָה אַחַת לִפְנֵי הַמָּקוֹם, אֲשֶׁר בָּחַר בָּהּ מִכָּל הַיּוֹם,

so that [people] can congregate and stand3 before Him during that hour. For this is an auspicious time for Him to be revealed and to come into the “miniature sanctuary,” as a synagogue is called,4

לְהִקָּהֵל וְלַעֲמוֹד לְפָנָיו בְּשָׁעָה זוֹ, שֶׁהִיא עֵת רָצוֹן לְפָנָיו, לְהִתְגַּלּוֹת, לָבוֹא אֶל הַ"מִּקְדָּשׁ מְעַט",

to visit the Shechinah of His Glory, “that dwells with [the Jewish people] in the midst of their impurity,”5

לִפְקוֹד לִשְׁכִינַת כְּבוֹדוֹ, "הַשּׁוֹכֵן אִתָּם בְּתוֹךְ טוּמְאוֹתָם",

Even in the impurity of exile, the Divine Presence abides among the Jewish people. And at the auspicious hour of prayer, the Almighty Himself comes, as it were, to visit the Shechinah that resides constantly among His people.

and to be accessible to those who seek Him and entreat Him and yearn for Him.

וּלְהִמָּצֵא לְדוֹרְשָׁיו וּמְבַקְשָׁיו וּמְיַיחֲלָיו.

At this auspicious time of prayer, he who speaks of his needs demonstrates that he has no desire to contemplate and to behold the manifestation of [G‑d’s] majestic glory.

וְהַמְסַפֵּר בִּצְרָכָיו – מַרְאֶה בְּעַצְמוֹ שֶׁאֵינוֹ חָפֵץ לְהִתְבּוֹנֵן וְלִרְאוֹת בְּגִילּוּי כְּבוֹד מַלְכוּתוֹ,

Thus, he becomes an impure chariot (i.e., a subservient vehicle) to the “supernal fool” (i.e., to the kelipah),

וְנַעֲשֶׂה מֶרְכָּבָה טְמֵאָה לַכְּסִיל הָעֶלְיוֹן,

of whom it is said, “The fool does not desire understanding…,”6 as stated in the Zohar7 and by Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, of blessed memory.8

שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר עָלָיו: "לֹא יַחְפּוֹץ כְּסִיל בִּתְבוּנָה כוּ'", כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתְבוּ הַזֹּהַר וְהָאֲרִ"י זִכְרוֹנוֹ לִבְרָכָה,

This means, he has no desire to contemplate and to behold the glorious splendor of the greatness of the King of kings—the Holy One, blessed be He—

דְּהַיְינוּ, שֶׁאֵינוֹ חָפֵץ לְהִתְבּוֹנֵן וְלִרְאוֹת בִּיקַר תִּפְאֶרֶת גְּדוּלָּתוֹ שֶׁל מֶלֶךְ־מַלְכֵי־הַמְּלָכִים הַקָּדוֹשׁ־בָּרוּךְ־הוּא,

which becomes revealed at this hour above, for the hour of prayer is a propitious time above.

הַנִּגְלוֹת לְמַעְלָה בְּשָׁעָה זוֹ,

It is also [revealed] below, to those who earnestly desire to gaze upon His glory and greatness, which garbs and vests itself in the words of the liturgy which is known to all,

וְגַם לְמַטָּה – אֶל הַחֲפֵצִים לְהַבִּיט אֶל כְּבוֹדוֹ וְגָדְלוֹ, הַמִּתְעַטֵּף וּמִתְלַבֵּשׁ בְּתוֹךְ תֵּיבוֹת הַתְּפִלָּה הַסְּדוּרָה בְּפִי כֹל,

and which becomes revealed to every individual, according to his intellect and according to the root of his soul;

וּמִתְגַּלֶּה לְכָל אֶחָד לְפִי שִׂכְלוֹ וְשׁוֹרֶשׁ נִשְׁמָתוֹ,

as it is written, “A man is praised (yehulal) according to [the measure of] his intellect.”9

כְּדִכְתִיב: "לְפִי שִׂכְלוֹ יְהוּלַּל אִישׁ" –

As spelled, [the word could be pronounced] yehalel.

"יְהַלֵּל" כְּתִיב.

The verse would thus mean, “A man praises (i.e., prays) according to the measure of his intellect,” i.e., in proportion to his comprehension of G‑d’s greatness.

Now, the kingdom of heaven is similar to a kingdom on earth.10

וּ"מַלְכוּתָא דְרָקִיעַ – כְּעֵין מַלְכוּתָא דְאַרְעָא",

It is customary for a king to have his might concealed11 in [his] innermost chambers, with many guards at the doors,

שֶׁדֶּרֶךְ הַמֶּלֶךְ לִהְיוֹת חֶבְיוֹן עוּזּוֹ בְּחַדְרֵי חֲדָרִים, וְכַמָּה שׁוֹמְרִים עַל הַפְּתָחִים,

(so)12 that many people wait for days and years [hoping] to behold his might and glory.

(עַד) אֲשֶׁר כַּמָּה וְכַמָּה, מְצַפִּים יָמִים וְשָׁנִים לִרְאוֹת עוּזּוֹ וּכְבוֹדוֹ,

Now, when he wishes to be seen by all, and proclaims throughout his kingdom [that his subjects] should assemble and stand before him so that he can show them his majestic glory and the exalted splendor of his greatness,

וּכְשֶׁעָלָה רְצוֹנוֹ לְהִתְגַּלּוֹת לַכֹּל, וְהֶעֱבִיר קוֹל בְּכָל מַלְכוּתוֹ לְהִקָּהֵל וְלַעֲמוֹד לְפָנָיו, לְהַרְאוֹתָם כְּבוֹד מַלְכוּתוֹ וִיקַר תִּפְאֶרֶת גְּדוּלָּתוֹ,

whoever will stand before him and not care to see him, busying himself at that time with his own needs—

מִי שֶׁעוֹמֵד לְפָנָיו וְאֵינוֹ חוֹשֵׁשׁ לִרְאוֹתוֹ וּמִתְעַסֵּק בִּצְרָכָיו –

how lowly, foolish, and senseless is he; he resembles an animal in the eyes of all.

כַּמָּה גָּרוּעַ וְסָכָל וּפֶתִי הוּא, וְנִמְשַׁל כַּבְּהֵמוֹת נִדְמֶה בְּעֵינֵי כָּל הַבְּרִיּוֹת.

Moreover, it is a dishonor to the king when he demonstrates before him that to have pleasure and delight from gazing upon his glory and beauty is of no more esteem in his eyes than busying himself with his own needs.

וְגַם, הוּא בִּזְיוֹן הַמֶּלֶךְ, בְּהַרְאוֹתוֹ לְפָנָיו, שֶׁאֵינוֹ סָפוּן בְּעֵינָיו לְקַבֵּל נַחַת וְשַׁעֲשׁוּעִים מֵהַבִּיט אֶל כְּבוֹדוֹ וְיָפְיוֹ, יוֹתֵר מֵעֵסֶק צְרָכָיו.

Moreover, it is a capital offense toward the king to exhibit how he disgraces and dishonors the king in the eyes of the public.

וְגַם, הוּא מִתְחַיֵּיב בְּנַפְשׁוֹ לַמֶּלֶךְ, עַל הַרְאוֹת קְלוֹנוֹ וּבִזְיוֹנוֹ אֶת הַמֶּלֶךְ לְעֵין כָּל רוֹאֶה.

Of this it is written, “And fools raise the insult.”13

וְעַל זֶה נֶאֱמַר: "וּכְסִילִים מֵרִים קָלוֹן",

This means to say that though he is a fool, he should not “raise the insult,” making [it] apparent to all, for this not only dishonors the king but also constitutes a capital offense.

כְּלוֹמַר: אַף שֶׁהוּא כְּסִיל לֹא יִהְיֶה "מֵרִים קָלוֹן", שֶׁיִּהְיֶה נִרְאֶה הַקָּלוֹן לְעֵין כֹּל.

For this reason, our Sages, of blessed memory, ordained that with prayer, one should [conduct himself] “as if he is standing before the king.”14

וְעַל כֵּן קָבְעוּ חֲכָמֵינוּ־זִכְרוֹנָם־לִבְרָכָה בַּתְּפִלָּה: "כְּאִלּוּ עוֹמֵד לִפְנֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ",

Now, if he is standing before the King of kings, why do our Sages say “as if”? This means:

At least he should make himself appear as if he is standing [before the king] in the sight of all who look with physical eyes at his actions and words,

עַל כָּל פָּנִים יִהְיֶה מַרְאֶה בְּעַצְמוֹ כְּאִלּוּ עוֹמֵד כוּ' לְעֵין כָּל רוֹאֶה בְּעֵינֵי בָשָׂר אֶל מַעֲשָׂיו וְדִיבּוּרָיו,

even though a fool has no thought—although he does not have even an intellectual realization that while standing in prayer he truly is standing before the King.

אַף שֶׁאֵין לוֹ מַחֲשָׁבָה – לַכְּסִיל.

It was concerning this matter—the realization that one is standing before the King at the time that He appointed to reveal His glory to those who seek Him—that all the prayers were instituted,15 [as is evident] to whoever meditates deeply upon them.

וְעַל זֶה הָעִנְיָן נִתְקַן כָּל הַתְּפִלּוֹת, לַמִּתְבּוֹנֵן בָּהֶם הֵיטֵב.

But he that does not show this [realization] is guilty of a capital offense,

וּמִי שֶׁאֵינוֹ מַרְאֶה כֵּן – מִתְחַיֵּיב בְּנַפְשׁוֹ.

and of him, it was said in the sacred Zohar16 that “he brings disgrace into the supernal order, and shows that he is separate [from holiness], and has no share in the G‑d of Israel,” heaven forfend.

וְעָלָיו אָמְרוּ בַּזֹּהַר הַקָּדוֹשׁ: "דְּאַנְהִיג קְלָנָא בְּתִקּוּנָא עִילָּאָה וְאַחֲזֵי פֵרוּדָא, וְלֵית לֵיהּ חוּלָקָא בֶּאֱלָהָא דְּיִשְׂרָאֵל", רַחֲמָנָא לִצְּלָן.

Therefore, declares the Alter Rebbe, I am hereby acting as an agent of our Sages, of blessed memory,

עַל כֵּן, שְׁלִיחוּתַיְיהוּ דְּרַבּוֹתֵינוּ־זִכְרוֹנָם־לִבְרָכָה קָא עֲבִידְנָא,

to enact a decree17 to apply equally to everyone: No idle talk is to be spoken from the moment the Reader begins to recite the prayers until the end of the last Kaddish, at Shacharit, Minchah,18 and Arvit.19

לִגְזוֹר גְּזֵירָה שָׁוָה לְכָל נֶפֶשׁ, שֶׁלֹּא לָשׂוּחַ שִׂיחָה בְּטֵלָה מִשֶּׁיַּתְחִיל הַשְּׁלִיחַ צִיבּוּר לְהִתְפַּלֵּל הַתְּפִלָּה עַד גְּמַר קַדִּישׁ בַּתְרָא, שַׁחֲרִית עַרְבִית וּמִנְחָה וְכוּ'.

And he who disobeys intentionally shall sit on the ground and beg of three people to release him from the supernal excommunication that results from disobeying a Rabbinic decree.

וְהָעוֹבֵר עַל זֶה בְּזָדוֹן – יֵשֵׁב עַל הָאָרֶץ, וִיבַקֵּשׁ מִג' אֲנָשִׁים שֶׁיַּתִּירוּ לוֹ נִידּוּי שֶׁלְּמַעְלָה,

“He should repent, resolving to change his ways, and heal,”20 and retroactively, no excommunication whatsoever will have applied to him.

"וְשָׁב וְרָפָא לוֹ", וְלֹא חָל עָלָיו שׁוּם נִידּוּי לְמַפְרֵעַ כָּל עִיקָּר,

For from the very outset, it applied only to those who rebel and are willfully sinful and who do not care at all to seek atonement (as they ought) from heaven and from man for this grievous sin.

כִּי מִתְּחִלָּתוֹ לֹא חָל, כִּי אִם עַל הַמּוֹרְדִים וְהַפּוֹשְׁעִים שֶׁאֵינָם חוֹשְׁשִׁים כְּלָל לְבַקֵּשׁ כַּפָּרָה מִן הַשָּׁמַיִם וּמִן הַבְּרִיּוֹת עַל הֶעָוֹן פְּלִילִי הַזֶּה.

Also, [this excommunication applies] only when people speak deliberately and brazenly,

וְגַם, דַּוְקָא כְּשֶׁמְּדַבְּרִים בְּזָדוֹן בִּשְׁאָט נֶפֶשׁ,

but not to a person who forgets, or unwittingly uttered a few words, for he does not require a release [from the excommunication] at all.

וְלֹא עַל הַשּׁוֹכֵחַ אוֹ שֶׁנִּזְרְקוּ מִפִּיו כַּמָּה תֵּיבוֹת בְּלֹא מִתְכַּוֵּין, שֶׁאֵינוֹ צָרִיךְ הַתָּרָה כְּלָל.

“And G‑d Who is righteous examines the heart and the kidneys”21: He probes a man’s inner integrity and is able to discern a deliberate offense from an unwitting one.

"וּבוֹחֵן לִבּוֹת וּכְלָיוֹת אֱלֹקִים צַדִּיק".

The Alter Rebbe concludes with a prayer: “Be benevolent, O G‑d, unto the good,” i.e., to those who refrain utterly from idle speech, “and unto those who are upright in their hearts”22; i.e., also to those whose hearts meant well but from whose lips a few words inadvertently escaped.

"הֵטִיבָה ה' לַטּוֹבִים וְלִישָׁרִים בְּלִבּוֹתָם":