An Odd Prayer and the Lost Bandit

Motzei Shabbos Story: “Whoever wishes his prayers to ascend to heaven,” the Baal Shem Tov once declared, “is welcome to pray along with me, word for word, from my prayer book.”

By Menachem Posner –

“Whoever wishes his prayers to ascend to heaven,” the great Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov once declared, “is welcome to pray along with me, word for word, from my prayer book.”

One can imagine that most people who heard the Baal Shem Tov’s offer were too shy to take him up on it. Everyone knew that when the Chassidic master prayed, his every word was laden with Kabbalistic intent and fervor.

And so it was that just one young man, Eliyahu,1 had the district privilege of praying word-for-word with the founder of the Chassidic movement. The Baal Shem Tov would say a word, Eliyahu would say a word, and so they slowly and carefully made their way through the prayer service.

One Shabbat morning, as the Baal Shem Tov and Eliyahu were saying the pesukei dezimrah (preparatory Psalms), the Baal Shem Tov read, “The horse is a false deliverance, and its great strength cannot save,”2 and Eliyah repeated it as usual.

But then the Baal Shem Tov said the verse again. And again. And again.

All the while Eliyahu sat silently.

Wondering what was unique about the verse, Eliyahu perused the Kabbalistic intentions connected with the various prayers but saw nothing at all related to that particular verse.

Disillusioned, he stopped praying along with the Baal Shem Tov altogether.

Sometime later, he visited the Baal Shem Tov’s home.

“Oh Eliyahu, you’ve stopped praying with me,” said the master. “Let me tell you why I repeated that verse over and over.

“On that particular Shabbat, a Jew was stranded all alone in a remote field. He had lost his way on Friday afternoon, and was forced to stop there before the sun went down. A bloodthirsty bandit had heard of his whereabouts and wished to rob and kill the hapless traveler. As he sped along on his horse, I knew I needed to do something. And so I said this verse, which speaks of the horse’s folly, over and over again with great intent. And indeed, the horse soon got so lost that the bandit never managed to find his victim.

Reprinted with permission from

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