Word had evidently reached the Alter Rebbe that the Chasidim of a certain synagogue did not permit a worshipper 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….”

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

הִנֵּה, לֹא טוֹבָה הַשְּׁמוּעָה, שָׁמַעְתִּי וַתִּרְגַּז בִּטְנִי,

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 sanctuary2the synagogue—of our [Chasidic] brotherhood.

אֲשֶׁר עַם ה' מַעֲבִירִים מִלִּפְנֵי הַתֵּיבָה הָאִישׁ הֶחָפֵץ בַּחַיִּים וַאֲרִיכוּת יָמִים שֶׁל כָּל אַנְשֵׁי שְׁלוֹמֵנוּ שֶׁבְּ"מִקְדָּשׁ מְעַט" הַזֶּה שֶׁל אַנְשֵׁי שְׁלוֹמֵנוּ,

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.

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

כְּמַאֲמַר רַבּוֹתֵינוּ־זִכְרוֹנָם־לִבְרָכָה: שְׁלֹשָׁה דְבָרִים מַאֲרִיכִים יָמָיו שֶׁל אָדָם, וְאֶחָד מֵהֶם – הַמַּאֲרִיךְ בִּתְפִלָּתוֹ.

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

וְאַף גַּם מִי שֶׁהַשָּׁעָה דְּחוּקָה לוֹ בְּיוֹתֵר, וְאִי אֶפְשָׁר לוֹ בְּשׁוּם אוֹפֶן לְהַמְתִּין עַד אַחַר עֲנִיַּית קְדוּשָּׁה שֶׁל חֲזָרַת הַשְּׁלִיחַ־צִבּוּר הַזֶּה,

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.

הֲלֹא טוֹב טוֹב לוֹ שֶׁלֹּא לִשְׁמוֹעַ קְדוּשָּׁה וּבָרְכוּ, מִלֵּירֵד לְחַיֵּיהֶם שֶׁל הַחֲפֵצִים בַּחַיִּים,

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

וְאוֹנֶס רַחֲמָנָא פַּטְרֵיהּ,


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

וְהַשְּׁלִיחַ־צִבּוּר מוֹצִיאוֹ יְדֵי חוֹבָתוֹ אַף שֶׁלֹּא שָׁמַע – כְּאִילּוּ שָׁמַע, שֶׁהוּא כְּעוֹנֶה מַמָּשׁ,

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.

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.

וְכִדְאִיתָא בַּגְּמָרָא גַּבֵּי עַם שֶׁבַּשָּׂדוֹת דַּאֲנִיסֵי, וְיוֹצְאִים יְדֵי חוֹבַת תְּפִלַּת שְׁמוֹנֶה עֶשְׂרֵה עַצְמָהּ בַּחֲזָרַת הַשְּׁלִיחַ־צִבּוּר כְּאִלּוּ שָׁמְעוּ מַמָּשׁ,

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

וְגַם קְדוּשָּׁה וּבָרְכוּ בִּכְלָל.

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

This we have searched out and verified,9

וְהִנֵּה, זֹאת חֲקַרְנוּהָ כֶּן הוּא

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

אַף גַּם בַּדּוֹרוֹת הָרִאשׁוֹנִים שֶׁל חַכְמֵי הַמִּשְׁנָה וְהַגְּמָרָא,

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

שֶׁהָיְתָה תּוֹרָתָם קֶבַע וְעִיקַּר עֲבוֹדָתָם, וְלֹא תְּפִלָּתָם.

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

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.

וּמִכָּל שֶׁכֵּן עַתָּה הַפַּעַם בְּעִקְּבוֹת מְשִׁיחָא, שֶׁאֵין תּוֹרָתֵינוּ קֶבַע, מִצּוֹק הָעִתִּים,

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

וְעִיקַּר הָעֲבוֹדָה בְּעִקְּבוֹת מְשִׁיחָא הִיא הַתְּפִלָּה, כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתַב הָרַב חַיִּים וִיטַאל זִכְרוֹנוֹ לִבְרָכָה בְּ"עֵץ חַיִּים" וּ"פְרִי עֵץ חַיִּים",

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

מִכָּל שֶׁכֵּן וְקַל וָחוֹמֶר שֶׁרָאוּי וְנָכוֹן לִיתֵּן נַפְשֵׁינוּ מַמָּשׁ עָלֶיהָ.

This—prolonged prayer buttressed by the disciplined contemptation 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,

וְהִיא חוֹבָה שֶׁל תּוֹרָה מַמָּשׁ, לִמְבִינֵי מַדָּע – תּוֹעֶלֶת הַהִתְבּוֹנְנוּת וְעוֹמֶק הַדַּעַת קְצָת, כָּל חַד לְפוּם שִׁיעוּרָא דִילֵיהּ,

In some individuals, as discussed in the Tanya, Part I, ch. 41, 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.

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),

בְּסִדּוּר שְׁבָחוֹ שֶׁל מָקוֹם בָּרוּךְ־הוּא בִּפְסוּקֵי דְזִמְרָה וּשְׁתֵּי בְרָכוֹת שֶׁלִּפְנֵי קְרִיאַת־שְׁמַע – "יוֹצֵר" וְ"אַהֲבָה"

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.

לְעוֹרֵר בָּהֶן הָאַהֲבָה הַמְסוּתֶּרֶת בְּלֵב כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל, לָבֹא לִבְחִינַת גִּילּוּי בְּהִתְגַּלּוּת הַלֵּב בִּשְׁעַת קְרִיאַת־שְׁמַע עַצְמָהּ,

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

שֶׁזֹּאת הִיא מִצְוַת הָאַהֲבָה שֶׁבַּפָּסוּק: "וְאָהַבְתָּ גוֹ' בְּכָל לְבָבְךָ גוֹ'", הַנִּמְנֵית רִאשׁוֹנָה בְּתַרְיַ"ג מִצְוֹת,

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.

כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתַב הָרַמְבַּ"ם זִכְרוֹנוֹ לִבְרָכָה, שֶׁהִיא מִיסוֹדֵי הַתּוֹרָה וְשָׁרְשָׁהּ וּמָקוֹר לְכָל רַמַ"ח מִצְוֹת עֲשֵׂה,

Concerning these commandments, the Alter Rebbe states in the Tanya, Part I, ch. 4, “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 to be understood as a command (“You shall love”) but as an assurance (“You will love”).

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.

כִּי עַל אַהֲבָה הַמְסוּתֶּרֶת בְּלֵב כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּתוֹלַדְתָּם וְטִבְעָם, לֹא שַׁיָּיךְ צִיוּוּי כְּלָל.

Rather, the command is that this latent love be revealed and 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.

This is apparent to the understanding,

וְדַעַת לְנָבוֹן נָקָל,

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

כִּי כְּשֶׁהָאַהֲבָה הִיא מְסוּתֶּרֶת – הִיא עוֹדֶינָּה בַּנֶּפֶשׁ הָאֱלֹקִית לְבַדָּהּ,

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

וּכְשֶׁבָּאָה לִבְחִינַת גִּילּוּי לַנֶּפֶשׁ הַחִיּוּנִית אֲזַי הִיא בְּהִתְגַּלּוּת הַלֵּב בְּחָלָל שְׂמָאלִי, מְקוֹם מִשְׁכַּן נֶפֶשׁ הַחִיּוּנִית.

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

This is the meaning of the “elevation of the sparks” mentioned there in Etz Chaim and Pri Etz Chaim10 in reference to prayer: through prayer, one elevates the sparks of holiness that fell from Tohu.

וְזֶהוּ עִנְיַן בֵּירוּר נִיצוֹצוֹת הַמּוּזְכָּר שָׁם בְּעֵץ חַיִּים וּפְרִי עֵץ חַיִּים גַּבֵּי תְּפִלָּה,

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.

שֶׁלָּכֵן הִיא עִיקַּר הָעֲבוֹדָה בְּעִקְּבוֹת מְשִׁיחָא, לְבָרֵר נִיצוֹצוֹת כוּ',

This may take place either through the transformation18 or the subjugation of the animal soul to the Divine soul, as is known.

שֶׁהוּא בְּחִינַת אִתְהַפְּכָא אוֹ אִתְכַּפְיָא שֶׁל נֶפֶשׁ הַחִיּוּנִית לְנֶפֶשׁ הָאֱלֹקִית כַּנּוֹדָע,

“For the blood is the soul…”19 and hence the life-force of man, and the blood is renewed daily through food and drink,

"כִּי הַדָּם הוּא הַנֶּפֶשׁ כוּ'", וְהַדָּם מִתְחַדֵּשׁ בְּכָל יוֹם מֵאוֹכָלִין וּמַשְׁקִין,

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.

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

וְגַם מִתְפָּעֵל וְנִתְקָן מִמַּלְבּוּשִׁים וְדִירָה כוּ'.

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.

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

מַה־שֶּׁאֵין־כֵּן בַּדּוֹרוֹת הָרִאשׁוֹנִים, שֶׁהָיוּ נִשְׁמוֹת הָאֱלֹקִית גְּדוֹלֵי הָעֵרֶךְ,

and the refinement and elevation of the sparks were instantaneous by means of Keriat Shema alone20 and the blessings preceding it, and the abridged Pesukei Dezimrah, and so on.21

הָיָה הַבֵּירוּר נַעֲשֶׂה כְּרֶגַע בִּקְרִיאַת־שְׁמַע לְבַד וּבְרָכוֹת שֶׁלְּפָנֶיהָ וּפְסוּקֵי דְזִמְרָה בִּקְצָרָה וְכוּ',

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

This will suffice for the discerning.

וְדַי לַמֵּבִין: