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A Sigh Treasured In Heaven
By E. Lesches

Reb Hillel of Paritch needs little or no introduction. His erudition, his piety, his devotion to the Rebbeim is legendary in Chabad Chassidus history. Every part of his life was permeated with Chassidus and spirituality. Every iota of Torah counted, and he applied its laws most stringently.

Whenever Reb Hillel traveled, he made certain that a Kohen accompanied him. This honor usually fell to Reb Sholom Uminer (or, as Chassidim nicknamed him, "Reb Sholom Reb Hillel’s"). However, on one occasion, Reb Hillel chose another of his close disciples, Reb Nachman Mariashin, and the pair soon set out on their journey.

Later, as night fell, Reb Hillel and his student stopped at a roadside inn and took a room for the night. Reb Nachman prepared himself to daven Maariv, a davening not like anything we are used to. He contemplated the Chassidic meaning of every word, singing and meditating on the Maariv prayer until the new day dawned!

Of course, now that it was already light outside, how could a disciple of Reb Hillel lay down to rest? Disregarding his total lack of sleep, Reb Nachman prepared to daven Shacharis. His preparations took an entire hour. As the night before, it was a davening permeated with Chassidus. Every word was laden with meaning; every phrase punctuated by song and thought. The hours slipped slowly by as Reb Nachman stood immersed in prayer. When he finally reached the Sh’ma, most of the day had gone. The sinking afternoon sun signaled it was already time to daven Mincha.

The innkeeper, a simple Jew, came by to the room in which the prayers were held. He had come for Mincha, but found instead an amazing sight — the Chassid he saw praying earlier in the morning was still standing engrossed in Shacharis!

"Ha!" said the innkeeper. "What’s the matter with him? It took him an entire night last night to say Maariv and now, today, he has spent the whole day trying to finish Shacharis. I’m much different than he is. It takes me no time at all to say a prayer like the Sh’ma, yet look how long it takes him to say the words. He must be a simpleton, probably a really thickheaded person." Reb Nachman had just finished davening in time to hear this remark.

Observed Reb Hillel, "My student Reb Nachman learned Chassidus with me for three years, yet all this Chassidus did not change him as much as the innkeeper’s crude statement…"

Later, Reb Nachman repeated the incident to the Rebbe Rayatz who, in turn, related the anecdote to his father, the Rebbe Rashab. The Rashab immediately asked that Reb Nachman be called in to repeat the story. Though Reb Nachman was known for his excitable temperament, he composed himself and repeated the story again word for word. At the conclusion the Rebbe Rashab observed, "But you have to rid yourself of the actual [spiritual] dirt, which can only be achieved through avoda…"

In another sicha of the Rebbe Rayatz, he writes that Reb Nachman Mariashin had the custom of coming to Lubavitch for Pesach and was thus dubbed "a Pesachdike Chassid." After Pesach, he transcribed what he saw and heard during his stay. He related the spiritual feeling that permeated the seider table of the Rebbe Maharash and how during the seider the Rebbe acted in the manner of the Baal Shem Tov. Though the assembled always recited the Hagada in a low tone, Reb Nachman reported a time that the Rebbe specifically asked everyone to say the Hagada out loud. Another time, the Rebbe Maharash asked everyone to leave the room, and sat alone at the seider table for a long time.

The innkeeper mentioned earlier had no appreciation for true davening, but most people were outright envious of Chassidim who could dismiss worldly problems and devote their minds and hearts to davening. The Rebbe Rayatz records one such example:

The Raza, Reb Zalman Aron, brother of the Rebbe Rashab, once passed through the courtyard of the shul in Lubavitch, the sound of soulful prayer drifting past his ears. Entering the shul, he found Reb Chanoch Hendel Kugel engrossed in prayer, totally oblivious to his surroundings. The Raza sat down to listen to Reb Hendel’s prayer. Meanwhile Chaim Meir, the butcher, entered the room, rinsed his hands, and sat down too. Soon another joined the group. "Just listen to him," one of them whispered, "this is a real davening!"

Soon the door opened and another individual entered. This was Reb Berel, a greatly learned scholar who, though a storekeeper by trade, had authored a commentary on Yeshayahu. It was no secret that Reb Berel held his own work in high regard.

"Nu, Reb Ber!" someone turned to him. "What do you say to such a davening?"

"Yes, of course," Reb Berel dismissed him. "But…"

The small group quickly understood Reb Berel’s intent. This very well may be a good davening, he meant to say, but it does not compare to my explanation of Yeshayahu!

After this brief exchange, the small group left Reb Hendel and filed out of the shul. "Ah!" exclaimed the butcher. "What a beautiful davening! I would give away an entire side of animal meat for such a prayer!"

Later, when the Raza was in the presence of the Rebbe Rashab, he repeated the entire incident and the remark made by Reb Berel. "[Reb Hendel is] one who causes others to achieve spiritual merit," said the Rebbe. Look at the chain reaction effected through his davening: Simple, unlearned folk will remind themselves of the way Reb Hendel davens and they too will sigh and say, ‘Ay! That was a real davening!’

"This cry," continued the Rebbe, "is a cry of the heart, a longing that transcends words. It is a sigh treasured in Heaven. In fact, this sigh is treasured more than what intellectual giants can ever aspire to achieve…"

(See Seifer HaSichos 5702, pp. 84, 87; Seifer HaSichos 5701, p. 49)


"Ah!" exclaimed the butcher. "What a beautiful davening! I would give away an entire side of animal meat for such a prayer!"


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