A Hasid consulted Rabbi Menahem Mendel of Kotzk about his anxiety.
“Don’t worry,” advised the rabbi. “Pray to God with all your heart, and the good Lord will have mercy on you.”
“But I don’t know how to pray,” protested the distraught Hasid. Pity surged into the heart of the rabbi as he told the poor man:
“Then you have indeed a great deal to worry about.”1
Another Hasidic rabbi, Simha Bunim of Pshiskhe, used to say that if your heart is full of worry, you can lighten it through ardent prayer and gain faith in God’s mercies.2
These rabbis, who lived around 1800 in an area that is now Poland, might have counseled the worried man to attend the synagogue when the congregation gathered to pray, and concentrate on the prayer ritual wholeheartedly. Such concentration would leave no room for worry. They knew that by praying three times a day, the Jew would have regular “time-out” from his worries, and would thus limit his worrying and prevent it from taking over his life.
Alternatively, these eastern European rabbis might have advised the Hasid to share his worries with God in a personal confession, admitting all that weighed down his heart. They could have assumed that such a prayer would have a cathartic effect; it would release tension and uplift him. We will see that Jews have often talked about their worries to God in their private prayers. They have also shared their worries with others while they pray. Prayer often connects the