Each year, Reb Yisrael, the Maggid (literally, “narrator”) of Koznitz, would visit the town of Apta. On one such visit, the elders of the town asked the rebbe to preach in their shul (literally, “school”) on Shabbos (The Sabbath). Reb Yisrael refused, saying: “Last year when I visited you, the same request was made. I spoke in your shul and accomplished nothing. Things are the same today as then; why should I waste my breath'”
Word of the rebbe’s harsh rebuke spread swiftly through the town. All of Apta fell into depression. Then a craftsman asked to meet with the Maggid.
“I am neither scholar nor saint,” the man said to the Maggid, “but I can say to you that you are mistaken about your sermon having no effect. I listened to what you said last year. You spoke of the obligation of every Jew to practice what is written in the Psalms (16:8): ‘I am ever mindful of God’s Presence.’ From that moment on, I have sought to do just that. The Name of God is constantly before me, revealed as black fire written on white fire in everyone I meet and everything I encounter. I tremble in awe of God’s Presence constantly.”
The Maggid smiled at the man and apologized for his hasty rebuke. “If one heart was opened last year, perhaps two will open this year.” The Maggid preached at the synagogue that Shabbos, and the lives of many were turned toward godliness.
Maggid (literally, “narrator”): A Hebrew word used for preacher. The Hasidic preachers used dramatic touches and a singsong style of delivery to move their listeners to redouble their efforts for justice and compassion.
Shul (literally, “school”): A Yiddish term used by Jews of European descent to refer to any traditional synagogue. Because of the strong educational component of the early synagogue, the Gentiles in the Roman world called the Jewish house of prayer a schola.
Psalm 16:8: Called the Shiviti, this text is often hung in synagogues on a wall in front of the worshippers. It was also used as focal point for meditation, as an amulet, and as a meditative chant: Shiviti Adonai l’negdi tamid . [also translated as, “I have set (shiviti) the Lord always before me”].
“I am ever mindful of God’s Presence.” This single line from the Psalms speaks to the heart of Jewish spiritual practice. Among the Hasidim, many repeated this line of the Psalms over and over as a means of seeing through the seemingly diverse nature of reality to the singular core that is God.
Living with the awareness of God’s Presence is living the spiritually awakened life. It means seeing the One as the many. It is stepping beyond duality without rejecting duality. It is seeing the nonduality that is God manifest as the duality that is creation. There is nothing other than God. The Shiviti rejects nothing: spirit and matter, heaven and earth, the sacred and the secular, the holy and the mundane are all seen as facets of the Divine.