Word had evidently reached the Alter Rebbe that the chassidim of a certain synagogue did not permit a worshiper who would pray at length to lead the services, because some individual there was pressed for time. In this letter of admonition, the Alter Rebbe writes that it is better for this person to even forgo participation in the congregational responses of Barchu and Kedushah (if it is absolutely impossible for him to remain longer), than to keep his fellow-congregants from praying at length. For deliberate prayer involves life itself, and, indeed, prolongs one’s life; by cutting short the prayers of others, this busy individual tampers with their very lives.

The Alter Rebbe also explains that meditation during prayer with the goal of revealing the love of G‑d that is concealed within the heart of every Jew, constitutes an obligation explicit in the Torah — “And you shall love the L‑rd your G‑d....”

הנה לא טובה השמועה שמעתי, ותרגז בטני

I have heard with foreboding and am deeply grieved, writes the Alter Rebbe,

אשר עם ה׳ מעבירים מלפני התיבה האיש החפץ בחיים ואריכות ימים של כל אנשי שלומנו, שבמקדש מעט הזה של אנשי שלומנו

that G‑d’s people are preventing1 one who yearns for the life and longevity of all our brethren, from leading the services in this small sanctuary2 — the synagogue — of our [chassidic] brotherhood.

The person who leads the service at a measured pace and thus enables his fellow-congregants to pray at length, provides them all with life and longevity.

כמאמר רז״ל: שלשה דברים מאריכים ימיו של אדם, ואחד מהם: המאריך בתפלתו

As our Sages of blessed memory teach,3 “Three things prolong the days of man,” and one of these is prolonged worship.

ואף גם מי שהשעה דחוקה לו ביותר, ואי אפשר לו בשום אופן להמתין עד אחר עניית קדושה של חזרת השליחצבור הזה

Even one extremely pressed for time, who finds it utterly impossible to wait until the congregational response called Kedushah in the repetition of the Shemoneh Esreh by this person who leads the prayers [slowly],

הלא טוב טוב לו שלא לשמוע קדושה וברכו, מלירד לחייהם של החפצים בחיים

far better is it for him to forgo hearing Kedushah and Barchu than to tamper with the lives of those who desire life, and hence desire to pray at length.

ואונס, רחמנא פטריה

The Torah does, after all, exonerate the compelled.4


והשליחצבור מוציאו ידי חובתו, אף שלא שמע, כאילו שמע, שהוא כעונה ממש

The Reader discharges his obligation for him5 of hearing Kedushah and Barchu even though he did not hear them recited,6 just as though he had heard, and this — hearing from the Reader, even without reciting — is counted precisely like responding.7

Unlike other instances of duress where the Torah indeed exonerates the individual concerned but does not consider him to have performed the omitted act, in this instance he is considered to have done so, for the Reader discharges his obligation for him.

וכדאיתא בגמרא גבי עם שבשדות, דאניסי, ויוצאים ידי חובת תפלת שמונה עשרה עצמה בחזרת הש״ץ, כאלו שמעו ממש

The Gemara8 notes this in reference to “the people in the fields” who are considered to be under duress, and fulfill their obligation of reciting the Shemoneh Esreh prayer itself, and not only of participating in the responses of Barchu and Kedushah, with the Reader’s repetition, as if they had actually heard it from him.

וגם קדושה וברכו בכלל

Kedushah and Barchu are also included among those obligations which are fulfilled through the Reader’s prayer.

This being the case, a person under duress should obviously not inconvenience others who seek to prolong their prayers.

והנה זאת חקרנוה, כן הוא

This we have searched out and verified,9

אף גם בדורות הראשונים של חכמי המשנה והגמרא

even regarding the early generations of the Sages of the Mishnah and Gemara,

שהיתה תורתם קבע ועיקר עבודתם, ולא תפלתם

whose Torah study, not prayer, was constant and their primary service.

Even with them, prolonged prayer was related to life and longevity.

ומכל שכן עתה הפעם בעקבות משיחא, שאין תורתינו קבע מצוק העתים

It is even more emphatically true at this time, in the period just preceding the advent of Mashiach, when our Torah study is not constant because of the difficulty of our times.

ועיקר העבודה בעקבות משיחא היא התפלה, כמו שכתב הרב חיים ויטל, זכרונו לברכה, בעץ חיים ופרי עץ חיים

The primary service in the period just preceding the coming of Mashiach is prayer, as Rabbi Chayim Vital (of blessed memory) writes in Etz Chayim and Pri Etz Chayim.10

מכל שכן וקל וחומר, שראוי ונכון ליתן נפשינו ממש עליה

Surely then, it is fitting and proper to devote ourselves utterly to it.

והיא חובה של תורה ממש למביני מדע תועלת ההתבוננות ועומק הדעת קצת, כל חד לפום שיעורא דיליה

This — prolonged prayer buttressed by the disciplined contemplation of G‑d’s greatness — is an actual Torah-mandated imperative to those who understand the efficacy of at least a little profoundly-considered meditation, each according to his measure,

In some individuals, as discussed in ch. 41 of Tanya, a feeling of love or awe of G‑d will be aroused by a brief effort of meditation, and in others, only by a deeper and longer stretch of meditation.

בסדור שבחו של מקום, ברוך הוא, בפסוקי דזמרה ושתי ברכות שלפני קריאת שמע, יוצר ואהבה

in the ordered enumeration of the praises of G‑d, blessed be He,11 in Pesukei DeZimrah and in the two blessings preceding Shema, viz., Yotzer (Yotzer Or) and Ahavah (Ahavat Olam),

לעורר בהן האהבה המסותרת בלב כל ישראל, לבא לבחינת גילוי בהתגלות הלב, בשעת קריאת שמע עצמה

in order to arouse through [these blessings] the love latent in the heart of every Jew, so that it attain a state of revelation in the openness of the heart during Keriat Shema itself, which follows these two blessings.

שזאת היא מצות האהבה, שבפסוק ואהבת גו׳ בכל לבבך גו׳, הנמנית ראשונה בתרי״ג מצות

This is the meaning of the commandment of love that appears in the verse,12 “And you shall love [the L‑rd your G‑d] with all your heart...,” that is reckoned first13 among the 613 mitzvot.

כמו שכתב הרמב״ם ז״ל, שהיא מיסודי התורה ושרשה, ומקור לכל רמ״ח מצות עשה

Thus the Rambam, of blessed memory, writes14 that this is a fundament of the Torah and its root, and the source of all 248 positive commands.

Concerning these commandments the Alter Rebbe states in ch. 4 of Tanya, “For he who fulfills them in truth, is he who loves G‑d’s Name.”

This commandment — “And you shall love” — is the obligation imposed by the Torah to meditate during prayer in order to arouse and reveal one’s latent love. As to the emotion of love itself, a commandment is obviously impossible and irrelevant: if one has it, he has it, and if not, no command is going to produce it.

Thus, in reply to the question, How is it possible to mandate love?, the Maggid of Mezritch points out15 that the subject of the command is not the love but the meditation that will assuredly lead one to experiencing it. When one considers (“Hear, O Israel”16) how “the L‑rd is our G‑d, the L‑rd is one,” one will surely come to love Him. The key verb (Ve’ahavta) is thus not not be understood as a command (“You shall love”), but as an assurance (“You will love”).

כי על אהבה המסותרת בלב כל ישראל בתולדתם וטבעם, לא שייך ציווי כלל

For regarding the love latent in the heart of all Israel by birth and nature, there can be no command at all, for it already exists.

Rather, the command is that this latent love be revealed; moreover, that it be felt not only by the G‑dly soul, but by the animating soul as well, which previously did not harbor it at all.

ודעת לנבון נקל

This is apparent to the understanding,

כי כשהאהבה היא מסותרת, היא עודינה בנפש האלקית לבדה

that while the love is concealed it is still lodged within the divine soul alone.

וכשבאה לבחינת גילוי לנפש החיונית, אזי היא בהתגלות הלב בחלל שמאלי, מקום משכן נפש החיונית

Only when it attains to a state of revelation in the animating soul is it revealed in the heart in the left chamber, the abode of the animating soul.17

Since this soul animates the entire body, the person as a whole will be permeated with this love.

וזהו ענין בירור ניצוצות, המוזכר שם בעץ חיים ובפרי עץ חיים, גבי תפלה

This is the meaning of the “elevation of the sparks” mentioned there in Etz Chayim and Pri Etz Chayim18 in reference to prayer: through prayer one elevates the sparks of holiness that fell from Tohu.

שלכן היא עיקר העבודה בעקבות משיחא, לברר ניצוצות כו׳

And for this reason prayer is the primary service in the period just preceding the coming of Mashiach — in order to seek out and elevate the sparks, and so on.

שהוא בחינת אתהפכא או אתכפיא של נפש החיונית לנפש האלקית, כנודע

This may take place either through the transformation19 or the subjugation of the animal soul to the divine soul, as is known.

כי הדם הוא הנפש כו׳, והדם מתחדש בכל יום מאוכלין ומשקין

“For the blood is the soul...”20 and hence the life-force of man, and the blood is renewed daily through food and drink,

By directing his eating and drinking to the holy goals of the divine soul, one refines and elevates the sparks found within the food and drink.

וגם מתפעל ונתקן ממלבושים ודירה כו׳

and [the man] is affected and improved by his garments and his shelter, and so on.

The refinement of the sparks latent in all these physical things is effected by revealing one’s innate love of G‑d during prayer. In our days prolonged prayer and meditation are thus a necessity.

מה שאין כן בדורות הראשונים, שהיו נשמות האלקית גדולי הערך

It was different, however, in earlier generations, when the divine souls were of a higher order,

היה הבירור נעשה כרגע בקריאת שמע לבד וברכות שלפניה, ופסוקי דזמרה בקצרה וכו׳

and the refinement and elevation of the sparks were instantaneous by means of Keriat Shema alone21 and the blessings preceding it, and the abridged Pesukei DeZimrah, and so on.22

These prayers alone then sufficed to reveal the Jew’s love of G‑d, and brought about the resulting beirurim of the sparks.

ודי למבין

This will suffice for the discerning.