by Yochonon Dovid
The intercity bus forges ahead, its engine humming,
swallowing up the kilometers beneath its speeding wheels.
Almost all of the seats are occupied. It is interesting to
see what people do with their time during this journey. Most
of them stare blankly ahead, or show a passing interest in
the scenery flashing by their window, at the flitting
lampposts, the traffic streaming along the opposite lane.
Some take the opportunity to grab a snooze, lulled by the
monotonous but soporific hum of the engine and the rocking
motion of the bus.
Our attention is caught by Assaf, who is leaning forward, his
eyes riveted upon a small Tehillim held in his hand.
His mouth murmurs fervently; his body sways gently back and
forth, and he has also seemed to catch the attention of his
bareheaded seatmate. The latter steals an occasional glance
at Assaf's face and even seems to attempt to read some
passages in the small text held in his hand, but without
After some time, Assaf closes it with a kiss, puts it into an
envelope and buries it in a pocket. His seatmate takes the
opportunity to engage him in conversation.
"What prayer were you just saying now? I know about
shacharit, but it's afternoon now. What were you
Assaf replies like a teacher instructing a student. "You are
right. There are three established daily services but I was
just now reciting psalms which were composed by Dovid
Hamelech, also known as the Sweet Poet of Israel. During his
stormy and very difficult life, Dovid personally experienced
all the hardships and vicissitudes of life that man can
possibly undergo. The collection of psalms and prayers in his
book suit every possible situation in which a Jew can find
himself during his lifetime. Saying these chapters is not a
fixed prayer. A Jew can recite them at any time he so wishes,
whenever his soul feels the need for it."
Seeing his neighbor listening receptively, Assaf continues,
"Reciting these psalms is a form of touching base, so to
speak, like when an astronaut goes into outer space on some
mission. He makes periodic contact with his home base and
talks with the commander of the project. Saying Tehillim
is not an obligatory report made at preordained scheduled
times. The Tehillim-sayer tells about himself, his
problems, his hopes and aspirations, and expresses the
innermost feelings of his heart. He tells of his connection
with the One Who sent him and his trust in His support and
"The Jew after his recital of Tehillim is not the same
as he was before he said the psalms. He has poured out his
very soul before his Creator, thrust his burden upon Hashem
and cast off his difficulties and problems. He has
strengthened his firm feeling that there is a surveying eye
above him and a vigilance over all his actions. He is
stronger, fortified to continue on along his path in life.
His spirit and soul have been recharged and he is filled with
new energy and truth. How can a person not avail himself of
this marvelous procedure, even if it is not obligatory at
A smile spread over his seatmate's face when he said, "I must
hand it to you that you know how to describe this activity in
glowing terms and to delineate the emotional impact it has
upon the sayer. But let me tell you the truth; I never felt
the need to say those psalms and I can't say that I'm missing
out on anything because of that lack."
Assaf carried on without directly relating to his neighbor's
confession. "A Jew reminds himself each morning, even before
he says his morning prayers, that Hashem has given him a pure
soul, with which he began his life's journey. At the end of
that journey, he will relinquish his soul and allow it to
return to its Divine Source.
"It is no simple matter for the soul to return to the base it
left seventy years before. A comparison must be made between
the soul that embarked on its journey, and the one that
returned after its long sojourn. The responsibility lies with
the person who received that soul to serve him. Can one
imagine that the astronaut journeying in a spaceship would
forget his point of origin? That he would inactivate the
radio transmitter and not feel any need to connect to his
home base until the day he finally returns from his long
"A person does not forget that he needs to eat. His
contracting stomach broadcasts signals of distress, pangs of
hunger that increase to the point that he can no longer
ignore them. The concern of nourishing his body is relegated
to an infallible warning system that will not allow a person
to forget his duty to feed his body.
"The soul is spiritual and delicate. It expects its owner to
feel the responsibility to supply it with its optimal
spiritual fare. If he occupies himself with corporal matters
to the point of totally forgetting his hungry soul, the
inevitable will happen: the soul will weaken, become
emaciated, shrivel up. Its voice will fade and waste away; it
will become atrophied and paralysis will spread throughout it
like an organ that is in disuse and where the flow of blood
"The soul cries out, but the owner who has not fostered an
awareness in his soul has lost the ability to hear the sound
of that voice. Such a person, if asked: `You are so involved
with bodily matters -- but what do you do for your soul?'
will simply scoff at the question and brush it off as a
childish joke. And so, he will continue the journey of his
life saddled with a musselman, atrophied, desensitized
The seatmate did not smile. He asked in all seriousness, "And
what is the nourishment for the soul?"
Assaf answered him immediately, "The wise man of the
Kuzari says that the value of prayer to the soul is
equal to the function of food to the body. Prayer purifies
the soul, elevates it and joins it to the exalted spiritual
world from whence it came. This is what prayer does for the
soul. Man is a marvelous cohesion of body and soul, but their
respective sources of nourishment are very different. While
the material body requires physical food, the spiritual soul
replenishes and fortifies itself, it recharges its stores of
purity, from the involvement of its owner in prayer. This
binds it once more to the Source from whence it
"The three daily services supply the requisite nourishment
for the soul, but the more spiritual a person is, and the
more he seeks to improve his soul, the more he tries to feed
it with better, higher- quality nourishment. One hundred
blessings of thanks and praise to the King of the world are
scattered throughout the day of a Jew, and the Book of
Tehillim is on hand whenever he wishes to avail
himself of it. These serve to provide a person with the
sustenance his soul needs.
"Such an exalted level for a person is not as inaccessible as
one might think. A person does not control his physical
reality to any full extent. You travel by bus, for example,
and might find a comfortable seat as soon as you get on. On
the other hand, you might see the bus pulling away from the
bus stop and will have to wait for a long time for the next
one, which will be packed and move slowly. Or you have to
loosen a screw on some appliance. Sometimes it slips out
easily, but sometimes it is stuck and rusted and all you
succeed in doing is injuring your hand with the screwdriver.
You put a pot on the stove to cook but are not in full
control of how the food will turn out. There is nothing that
one does that could not use a short prayer beforehand to help
it become a successful act.
"In Bereishis it is told that when the world was still
young and fresh, rain did not fall until Odom came along and
prayed for it. Only then did vegetation begin to grow. The
essence of man is his ability to pray. This is a hidden
essence but it is expressed through his name `Odom.' The
letter alef in the beginning of his name is the
visible, apparent part of the name of the letter, while the
lammed-fei are the unseen parts of the letter's name.
With the second letter of Odom, dalet, the lammed-
tof are the hidden letters of the name of dalet.
And by the mem, the third letter in Odom's name, it is
the second mem which is part of the name of that
letter, but it is hidden in the spelling of the word. The
hidden parts of the three letters of o-do-m -- the
letters lammed, fei; lamed, tof; mem together form the
"Now, go home and think about what I said. Oh, and here is a
gift for you," said Assaf, and handed his seatmate his copy
of Tehillim in an envelope.
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