It matters not the how much one prays. It is rather the sincerity that counts. Our Sages said, “He who does or says a lot and he who does or says a little, will receive the same reward or blessing, provided they are sincere” (Berachos 5b).
One of the great gaonim in Israel was Rav Yisroel of Kozienice (1745-1815). He was born in Radom in Russian Poland and was a chassidic rebbe, a kabbalist, a miracle worker and a great Talmudic scholar.
The Sincerity Of Prayer
The Maggid related the following story. On the outskirts of Kozienice there lived a simple and hard-working man. All year round he was too busy to attend shul, but on the Yomim Noraim, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, he made sure to attend.
One year, he also attended shul on Shabbat Shuva, the Shabbat before Yom Kippur. The Kozienice Maggid was preaching on the great mitzvah of eating on erev Yom Kippur.
“This mitzvah is so important,” said the Maggid, “that our sages considered a person who ate on erev Yom Kippur as having fasted both days, erev Yom Kippur and Yom Kippur itself.”
The Maggid continued to relate many Talmudic stories of pious saints who went out of their way to purchase a good meal for before the fast, such as the story of the poor tailor who overpaid for a fish and was rewarded by finding a rare diamond.
The simple man was very impressed with these stories and the following morning he told his wife that he was preparing a sumptuous feast for erev Yom Kippur. He purchased wine and many delicacies and asked his wife to prepare roasted chickens, cake and other foods.
Erev Yom Kippur, very early in the morning, he started to eat and drink. Midday, his wife interrupted him to remind him that he had better prepare himself for the trip to town so he could be on time for Kol Nidrei.
“I realize that we have to prepare for the great and holy day Yom Kippur,” he replied, “but I was also told to fulfill the mitzvah of eating Yom Kippur eve. I still have time, so you need not worry.”
A few hours later, the wife became nervous, realizing that it was nearing evening. Again, she warned him to prepare to start out for the shul lest he miss Kol Nidrei.
“You worry too much,” he replied. “But you can start out now. I will continue to eat in accordance with the instructions of the Maggid. Take the children, my tallis, kittel, siddur and machzor with you. I will meet you later.”
His loyal wife obeyed him and fulfilled his wishes. She took his tallis, kittel, siddur and machzor with her along with all the children and started out for town. Her husband, in the meantime, continued to eat and drink.
He drank so much wine that he soon fell into a deep sleep. He slept for many hours and, when he awoke, he saw that it was the middle of the night. He became frightened, having missed the evening prayers of Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year.
“Woe is me,” he began to moan. “I have no tallis, siddur or machzor with me, so how can I pray alone here at home? My wife took them all into town and I will not be able to go to shul until the morning. I do not know how to pray by heart!”
He began to cry with bitter tears. “Lord of the Universe,” he cried out, “I only know the Hebrew alphabet by heart. Since the machzor and all of our prayers are composed from the Aleph Bet, I will recite the letters out loud and You, in Heaven, can arrange the letters into any prayer You desire to hear from me.”
That entire night, the man cried and repeated the Aleph Bet over and over again, bemoaning his fate of not being able to pray in shul. In the morning, he set out for shul and, when he saw the Maggid, he began to cry as he told him of his experience of having overslept and of his inability to come to shul the pervious night.
“However, I repeated the Aleph Bet the entire night, for that was the only thing I knew,” he said.
The Kozienice Maggid then replied, “Be advised that your simple prayer of saying the Aleph Bet with a broken and repentant heart was so powerful that it stormed the heavens and opened up the gates. Through your merit, G-d will grant all of us a year of prosperity and happiness!”