The Kotzker Rebbe was asked by one of his foremost students: “I often feel uninspired during prayer. Is there something that I can focus on to uplift myself when I pray?”
Before we continue, imagine yourself a great rebbe and having someone pose such a question put to you. If you were worth your salt you would probably advise your student to study more about the prayers, or to try contemplate with greater intensity upon the meaning behind them (or something to that effect).
Not so the Kotzker.
His response was; “Do not worry about it at all. The power of prayer is so great that if, at some later stage, you happen to pray that prayer with even just a little fervor – it will draw all the previous imperfect prayers towards it and elevate them all together.” (Emet ve Emunah p5, par 1.)
The question was a serious question. Why did the Kotzker trivialize the prayers by saying; “Do not worry about it at all”?
There was another rebbe who made a similar, but possibly even more astounding statement:
Rabbi Nachman of Breslov said that; “…even if you committed a transgression, you should not be concerned.” (Hishtapchut HaNefesh)
This, he explains is because the purpose of the evil inclination is not, as is commonly assumed, to actually and physically get us to sin. It has no real interest in the act of the sin itself. Rather its purpose is to make us miserable and depressed after we have sinned. That sense of worthlessness and spiritual despair, brought on by the guilt of sin, leads us right to where the evil inclination wants us to be – to a state of depression.
Depression, say the mystics, is the antithesis of holiness. No one can be miserable and holy at the same time. If you feel depressed after committing a sin, you have fallen into a snare.
Isn’t that interesting? The whole world tells us to worry about prayers and transgressions, while the Kotzker and Breslover Rebbes tell us not to worry and to move on!
But how can you move on when you know something to be wrong?
I recall some sagely advice I once received from a senior rabbi who had been in the business of guiding people for over fifty years: “You don’t always have to be the one to fix everything that’s broken.”
Sometimes (maybe most times) one needs to allow life to happen.
Not everybody needs to be reprimanded every time they deserve to be.
Not every mistake you make needs to leave you devastated even if that’s the way you feel.
There is the story of R Yeshaya of Mokov. His father was a simple man who was the ‘official’ musician in the town of Mokov. He was the only person allowed to play at weddings. After he passed away, his son, who knew how to play the fiddle, was asked to take his fathers place.
R Yeshaya, was more learned than his father, and decided to journey to Kotzk to ask the rebbe if he should take that position. He was concerned that the frivolous nature of weddings on a continuous basis might impinge on his Yiddishkeit.
The Kotzker responded; “There is more Torah literature concerning the importance of making a living, than about the importance of fearing heaven. Let your mind be occupied with ideas of the spirit, but your hands with earthly matters.”(Emet ve Emunah p115, par 7.)
R Yeshaya promptly became the new ‘official’ musician of Mokov. He was later to play at the wedding of the Kotzker Rebbe himself.
More often than not, the most meaningful and pragmatic response to the seeker of guidance, is simply: “Your baggage is trying to trap you. Your guilt is trying to hold you back and paralyze you. The most spiritual thing you could ever do is to put that all behind you, move on.. and make it not matter.”