Stories about prayer | Adath Israel

The portion of this week, Noach, carries a hint about prayer:

“make an ark for yourself” (Genesis 6:14) – which is understood as make a word for yourself. In Hebrew, TEIVAH is both “word” and “ark”. How we construct our words is then a quest of everyone – what do you say to people, how we say those words, what we say to God and how we pray.

The Watchman

Reb Naftali of Ropshitz met a watchman making his rounds and asked him, “For whom are you working?” After answering, the man turned to the rabbi and inquired, “And you, for whom are you working?” The Ropshitzer was thunderstruck. He walked alongside the man for a bit and then asked him, “Will you work for me?” “Yes,” the man responded, “I should like to, but what would be my duties?” “To remind me,” responded Reb Naphtali, “to remind me.”

~ the question contained in this story is: how do you remind yourself to be connected to God? What will you do?

A Little Milk

Rabbi Naftali of Ropshitz walked into his kitchen one morning before prayers, and complained to the womenfolk who were busy there:” “For all my efforts don’t I deserve a little bit of milk?”

At that time Reb Asher, his son-in-law, had not yet learned to plumb the profundity of the rebbe’s words, and it bothered him that his father-in-law should become so irritated with other people. “This is no way to talk to people in the house! I’ll have to rebuke him about this” he thought to himself.

Just at that moment a woman came along to the tzaddik and sobbed out her plaint: “Rebbe, please help me, I haven’t enough milk with which to nurse my twin babies!”

“Go back to your home, my good woman,” he answered, “and the Almighty will help you.” And he gave her a blessing and comforting words.

Reb Asher was distracted from the little incident, and forgot the idea of rebuke.

A few weeks later Rabbi Naftali entered the kitchen, slammed the table and screamed another angry complaint: “So I’m already given a bit of milk, it’s all watery. Haven’t I earned some good nourishing milk for all my work?”

“This time,” thought Reb Asher, “I will not keep silent. In fact I will rebuke him twice, a holy man like himself losing his temper over such trifles!”

Again his thoughts were interrupted by the bitter weeping of the same woman, who had just entered.

“Rebbe!” she cried to Rabbi Naftali. “Thank God I now have milk to give my little ones – but it’s like water, and the babies are as skinny as sticks! Won’t you pray and ask the Holy One to bless me with good milk?”

“My good woman,” said the tzaddik, “return home to your babies. God will help you and you will have good milk.” And he gave her a blessing and comforting words.

A few weeks later, the twins, strong and healthy, were the happiness of the neighborhood. And Reb Asher began to understand how reb Naftali worked, and Reb Naftali’s relationship to God: a Friend.

~ This story asks us not to judge others harshly, and to remember that prayer is about others – relieving them of suffering and pain, offering a hand when we’re able and a blessing if we’re capable.


Biographical note:

Rabbi Naftali of Rofshitz (1760-1827) became known for his sharp wit and humor and his elusive shining aphorisms. Some of his teachings are collected in his works, Zera Kodesh, Ayalah Sheluchah, and Imrei Shefer. Many stories about him appear in the book, Ohel Naftali.