The Master of Prayer
SMALL The story, The Master of Prayer, was told by Rebbe Nachman of Breslov in the fall of 1809. It is one of his classic tales found in Sippurey Ma'asiot. We have divided the story
into subheadings for the reader's convenience.
Once there was a Master of Prayer. He was constantly engaged in prayer, and in singing songs and praises to God.
He lived away from civilization; however, he would visit inhabited areas on a regular basis. When he came, he would spend time with the
people, usually those of low status, such as the poor. He would have heart to heart discussions with them, speaking about life's goal. He would explain that the only true goal was to serve God all the days of one's life, spending one's days praying to God and singing His praise....
He would speak to an individual at great length, motivating him, so that his words entered the other's heart and the individual would join him. As soon as an individual came to agree with the Master's ideals, he would bring him to his place away from civilization.
For this purpose, the Master of Prayer had chosen for himself a place far from civilization. There was a river flowing there, as well as
fruit trees, from which he and his followers would eat. He was not at all concerned about clothing.
It was the custom of the Master of Prayer to visit inhabited areas, and spread his ideas, influencing people to emulate him, serving God and constantly praying. Whenever people wanted to join him, he would take them to his place away from civilization, where their only
activities would be praying, singing praise to God, confession, fasting, self-mortification, repentance, and similar occupations. He
would give them his books of prayers, songs, praises and confessions, and they would occupy themselves with them at all times.
Among the people he brought there, he would find individuals who had the ability to lead others to serve God. He would allow such individuals to visit inhabited places, and to also bring people to serve God.
In this manner the Master of Prayer spread his teachings. He would constantly attract people and bring them away from civilization.
Eventually, his teachings began to make an impression, and his activities became well known. People would suddenly vanish without a
trace; no one knew where they were. A person might lose a son or a son-in-law, and not have any idea of his whereabouts. But finally
people began to realize that all this was due to the Master of Prayer, who was attracting people to serve God.
People tried to capture him, but it was impossible to recognize him. The Master of Prayer devised clever plans, and he would constantly disguise himself in different ways. Every time he visited a person, he would be disguised differently. With one person he would be a pauper; with another a merchant; while with others he would have different disguises.
On many occasions when he spoke to people, he saw that he could not make any impression on them, and could not draw them to his goal. He would then engage in subterfuge, so that they would not be aware of his intention. It would appear that his intent was not at all to bring people to God; it was totally impossible to recognize that this was his purpose. Although his main intent was only to draw people close to God, and this was his entire motivation, whenever he saw that he was not making any impression, he would use roundabout ways so that the person would not recognize his true intent.
The Master of Prayer kept this up until hebegan to make a major impression on the world. He also became quite famous. People tried to capture him, but it was not possible.
The Master of Prayer and his men lived far away from civilization. They would spend their time engaged only in prayer, song, praise to God, confession, fasting, self-mortification and repentance.
The system of the Master of Prayer was to provide each of his followers with what he needed. If he realized that one of his followers, according to that person's mentality, needed to wear golden robes in order to serve God, then he would provide them for him. On the other hand, occasionally he would attract a wealthy
person and bring him away from civilization. If he understood that he needed to wear torn, humble clothing, he would instruct him to do so.
This was his general custom. He would provide each one with what he
Understood to be necessary for him.
For the people he attracted to God, fasting and self-mortification were better and more precious than all wordly enjoyment. They would
derive greater pleasure from fasting or self-mortification than from all worldly pleasures.
The Land of Wealth
Meanwhile, there was a land that had great wealth. Everyone there was wealthy.
This land, however, had very strange and unusual customs, since everything was made dependent upon wealth. Thus, a person's status and worth were determined solely on the basis of his wealth. One who had thousands or tens of thousands in cash had a certain rank, while others who had different amounts had a different rank. The entire order of social rank was thus determined by the amount of money that each one had. According to their constitution, the one with the most money was king.
The people there had banners. Each banner denoted a certain amount of money, and a certain rank was associated with that banner. For a different sum of money there would be a different banner, with a different rank associated with it. Thus, a person with one degree of wealth would have a banner conferring one rank, and one with a different degree of wealth would have a different banner, conferring a different rank. Each person's rank and status was thus determined by the amount of wealth he had. Rank was determined in the following manner: If a person had a certain amount of money, he was considered an ordinary human being. If he had less than this, then he would be considered a bird or a beast. Some people even had the status of harmful animals and birds. If a person had only a small amount of wealth, he might be considered a human lion or the like. Thus, the poorest among them were considered no better than birds or beasts, since money was the most important thing to them, and status was decided solely on the basis of wealth.
News of this land began to spread. The Master of Prayer sighed because of this and said, Who knows how far they will go because of this and what great errors they will make!
Some of the followers of the Master of Prayer visited the land without even seeking his advice. They wanted to bring the people back
to the good way, since they had great pity on them for having fallen into such great error through their desire for wealth. They were all
the more concerned since the Master of Prayer had said that the people of that land could fall into even greater error. These men therefore went to the land, hoping to be able to influence them to improve their ways.
When they came to that land, they approached an individual. Most probably they approached a wild beast, that is, a person who had so little wealth and such low rank that he was considered a wild animal. They began to speak to him in their way, telling him that wealth is no goal at all, and the only true goal is to serve God.
The individual, however, would not listen to them at all. The belief that money was the main purpose in life was too deeply rooted in the people there. They approached another individual and he too would not listen.
Finally, one of the Master of Prayer's followers engaged a man in conversation, speaking to him at great length. The man eventually said, I don't have any more time to speak to you.
Why? asked the other.
The man replied, Because we are all preparing to move away from this land. We are migrating to another area. Since we realize that the main goal in life is only wealth, we have decided to move to a land where we can amass greater wealth. It is a place where gold and silver can be taken from the ground. We are all prepared to migrate to that land.
Around this time, the people of the land agreed that they wanted to establish the ranks of stars and constellations. If a person had a certain agreed-upon amount of wealth, he would be a
The logic was that one who had such wealth had the power of a star, since they believed a star can increase the amount of gold in the
world. Wherever gold ore exists, it is because the star made gold dust grow in that area. Therefore, gold is derived from the stars; hence, one who had a certain amount of wealth was considered to have the power of a star, and he himself was also a star.
They also conferred the rank of constellation. A person who had a certain determined amount of wealth, would be a constellation.
Eventually, they also established the rank of angel. This too depended on a person's wealth.
Finally, they also agreed to confer the rank of gods. If a person had a huge amount of wealth as set up in their rules, then he would be a god. Since God had granted him such great wealth, that person would also be a god.
Once this had been established, they agreed that it was not fitting for them to remain in the atmosphere of this world. Moreover, it was not considered fitting for them to mix with other people in the world, since this would defile them. They considered all other people
in the world to be unclean.
They therefore decided that they would search for the highest mountain in the world and live there. Then they would be higher than all the air in the world.
They sent out explorers to find the highest mountains. They explored and found very high mountains, and all the people of that land migrated to these mountains. On every mountain there was a group of people from that land.
Around each mountain they erected great fortifications. They also made deep trenches around the mountain, so that it would be utterly
impossible for anyone to approach them. The only approach was through a hidden path to the mountain, so that no strangers would be able to
come to them. Similar fortifications were also erected around all the other mountains.
Guards were stationed far from the mountains so that no strangers would be allowed to approach them. They lived there in the mountains and abided by their customs.
These people worshiped many gods. Their gods were appointed on the basis of wealth, since wealth was the main thing to these people and through a great amount of wealth, one could become a god.
This, however, brought about great concern about murder and robbery. People would be very ready to kill and steal, since they could become gods with the stolen money. They were afraid to, however, because the wealthy were themselves considered gods and they were thus considered to be able to protect themselves from robbery and assassination.
They set up a system of services and sacrifices to their gods. They would also offer human sacrifices. Many people would also voluntarily offer themselves as sacrifices to their gods, believing that in this way they would become
incorporated into them, and later be reincarnated as wealthy men.
They thus institutionalized their belief in wealth. They had services, sacrifices and incense which were used to serve the extremely wealthy people who were their gods.
Nevertheless, there was much killing and robbery in the land. People who did not believe in their religion became murderers and thieves in order to amass wealth. Their main purpose in life was money. With money, one could buy anything, whether it be food or clothing. According to their belief system, human existence was based on money.
Wealth was therefore the focus of their belief. Every effort was made that there not be any lack of money since it was the main object of
their faith and the focus of their gods. They made every effort to bring wealth from other places to their land. Merchants were therefore sent out to do business in other lands so as to earn money and bring it back to their homeland.
According to their religion charity was a very great sin. They believed that if a person gave charity, it would diminish the influx of wealth that God had given him. The main goal was to have as much wealth as possible, and if one gave charity, it would blemish and diminish one's wealth. It was therefore forbidden in the strongest terms to give charity.
They also had inspectors. These inspectors were in charge of determining whether or not each person had as much wealth as he claimed. Each individual would have to be able constantly to demonstrate his wealth in order to retain his wealth-status.
Sometimes an animal would become a human being, and at other times, a human would become an animal. If a person lost his wealth, then he would become an animal, who did not have to have so much money. Similarly, if an animal amassed wealth, he could become a human being. This was true of all ranks; rank could be gained or lost depending on one's wealth.
These people also had images and icons of the wealthy people who were their gods. They would embrace these images and kiss them. This was part of their religious service.
The Master of Prayer's virtuous followers who had visited the land returned home and told the Master of Prayer about the foolishness and great error of the land. They related how these people had become confused because of their lust for wealth, and how they wanted to move to another land and set up the rank of stars and constellations.
The Master of Prayer replied that he was afraid that these people would become involved in even greater error.
Later he heard that the people of the land had made themselves into gods. The Master of Prayer said that this had been his original concern. He had great pity on these people and decided that he himself would go there, since he might be able to make them abandon their error.
When the Master of Prayer arrived in that land, he approached the guards who stood around the mountain. These watchmen were probably
insignificant individuals of low rank, since they were allowed to breathe the atmosphere of the world. Citizens who had higher rank as a result of their wealth would not breathe the atmosphere of the world and could not mingle with other people, since they believed that this would defile them. They could not even speak to foreigners, since they believed that they would become defiled by their breath. Therefore, the guards who stood outside the city must have been of very low rank.
Nevertheless, the guards had images which they would constantly embrace and kiss. Belief in wealth was also their religion.
The Master of Prayer approached one guard, and began to discuss the goal of life. He explained that the main goal is only to serve God through Torah, prayer and good deeds. Wealth is mere foolishness, and is not the goal at all....
The guard would not listen to him at all. All his life he had been imbued with the belief that the main goal is wealth.
When the Master of Prayer went to a second guard and spoke to him, this guard also would not listen to him. He went to all the guards in
this manner, but none of them would pay any attention to him.
The Master of Prayer finally made up his mind that he would go into the city on the mountain. When he arrived, the people considered it a great wonder. How did you get here? they asked. It is impossible for any outsider to come here.
I have already got in, he replied. It does not matter how I did it. Why bother asking me about it?
The Master of Prayer began to speak to one of the people about the goal of life, but the other refused to listen. He went to a second, and the same thing happened. None of them would listen to him, since they were totally immersed in their false beliefs.
The citizens of the city found it very surprising that someone would speak to them in this manner, which was directly opposed to their
faith. Soon, however, people began to realize that this stranger might be the Master of Prayer. They had already heard that such a
Master of Prayer existed.
The existence of the Master of Prayer was already well known in the world. Throughout the world, he was called, The religious Master
of Prayer. However, it was known that it was impossible to recognize or capture him, since he would always appear in a different disguise. He would appear to one person as a merchant, and to another as a pauper.
When the Master of Prayer realized that his identity had been discovered, he immediately fled from the land.