The Beadle of Rimanov, Rabbi Zvi Hirsch, came to his rebbe, Reb Menachem Mendel of Rimanov, to seek advice about a problem he was having during prayer.
“When I settle into my prayers,” Reb Zvi Hirsch said, “I am distracted by flaming Hebrew letters and words. Whole sentences seem to flash before my eyes. It is impossible for me to concentrate on the prayer I am supposed to be praying.”
“What you are seeing,” Reb Menachem Mendel said, “are the innermost kavvanot of our holy teacher, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria. You are receiving the deepest secrets hidden in the letters and words of the prayers you are praying. Others would give almost anything for such a gift, and you are complaining?”
“But Rebbe,” Reb Zvi Hirsch said, “this is all well and good, and I have nothing but love and admiration for the Ari, but all I want to do is concentrate on the simple meaning of the prayer.”
Reb Menachem Mendel closed his eyes and sat quietly for a moment. “What you desire,” he said in a half whisper, “is a very rare thing. One person in a generation can achieve what you are asking. To master the great secrets of prayer, to be privy to the kavvanot, and then to put it all aside to pray as a little child –— oy! –— if only this could be done, then would we know the Truth!”
Why is simplicity so rare? Because the ego thrives on complication.
Spirituality is simply the act of seeing what is. But to see clearly, we have to act simply. And this is the problem. We are taught that seeing is a complex act requiring a lifetime of study and rigorous practice. This is like someone shaking a jar of muddy water in the hope of catching a glimpse of a treasure hidden within it. What we need to do is put the jar down and allow the mud to settle to the bottom of its own accord. Then the water will clear, and you can see what the mud has hidden. But this seems too easy. After all, if things are that easy, why do we have such convoluted teachings and massive hierarchies of teachers? Could these serve only to keep the jar shaking, thus keeping the treasure hidden?
Life is complex but not complicated. The complexity of life reflects its diversity and creativity. The complications of life reflect our inability to be present and honest, kind and just.
Kavvanot (singular, kavvanah): The intellectual intentions one should focus on during various prayers and rituals.
Ari: An acronym for Holy Rabbi Yitzchak (Luria).
Oy: Yiddish exclamatory phrase.