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The Cantor Who Lost His Voice

retold by Doug Lipman

The cantor of Berdichev had taken to brooding about his position.

In almost any other house of prayer - the distressed cantor thought - he would have understood his role during services. The beauty of his voice would inspire the whole congregation to lift their voices and hearts to God. The fervor of his singing would be the perfect complement to an ordinary rabbi's more subdued prayers.

But Rabbi Levi Yitzchak was no ordinary rabbi. He shouted, he cried, he sang out his heart's pleas to God. One moment, he would wave his hands madly. The next, he would sink quietly into himself - only to burst out again into a sing-song story. Then he would suddenly stride back and forth on the bima, leaving no safe place for the cantor to even stand.

What could a cantor do? Sing quietly and steadily, in hopes of providing some contrast to Rabbi Levi Yitzchak's drama? Or sing ever more loudly and heart-renderingly, hoping not to be over-shadowed?

One day, just before services, the cantor of Berdichev approached Rabbi Levi Yitzchak. "Rabbi, I cannot sing today. My voice is hoarse from last week."

"Hoarse?" Rabbi Levi Yitzchak looked closely at the man. "What have you been doing, to become hoarse?"

The cantor lowered his eyes piously. "I have been singing before the Ark. The Ark that holds the holy Torah!"

"I understand," said Rabbi Levi Yitzchak.

"Thank you, Rabbi," said the cantor. "I knew you would understand."

"What I understand," said Rabbi Levi Yitzchak, "is that singing before the Ark could make you hoarse. But singing before the living God - that could never make you hoarse!"

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This story is presented as one of two stories about Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev, and his attitude toward intention in prayer:

  1. The Return
  2. The Cantor Who Lost His Voice

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This page was last updated on Monday, March 10, 2003
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