For the non-morning-people among us, or, Sometimes I think I’d rather die than get up.

“The Purple Angel,”                      by Marc Chagall

From a letter by Yehuda Leib Alter of Ger, the Sfas Emes, from Otzer mikhtavim uma’amarim 22.

You should know, my brother, that if any mitzvah seems out of reach so that you despair of being able to perform it, it is absolutely not so. Believe me when I say that even the least among us can perform every one of G!d’s mitzvot, and thereby serve the One who created us and gave us a pure soul, as we say in our morning prayers, “The soul You have given me is pure” (1).

Every morning we wake and see that the Holy One of Blessing has returned our souls to us (2), and our holy sages tell us that before the soul is sent back down it is made to swear to fulfill G!d’s commandments, as the Torah says “these things which I command you today” (3). To truly serve G!d means that every day our constant desire is to do G!d’s will with all of our heart and soul… This is a privilege that not even the angels share, for they are given only one task [and once it is completed they cease to exist]. Our holy sages tell us that G!d delights in a human being doing the divine will more than when an angel does it, and that all the angels of heaven wait and hope that we will do G!d’s will with love, for all the worlds depend on our deeds.

When you keep this in mind, you will do the divine will in order to bring all things close to the Holy One of Blessing, for every mitzvah is a physical act by which physical things are bound and brought to their Creator. Take for example the tzitzit (4): when you wear them as the Torah commands, then the threads in the tzitzit, the shawl to which they are tied, the act of tying them, the one who tied them, and the place in which they were tied are all raised up. Even if you do not have such a mystical intention, simply doing the mitzvah is itself enough to accomplish this.

If you remember this, then even if you count yourself among the least of Israel you will be so full of joy that you merit to bring such delight to the Holy One of Blessing that in the moment of performing the mitzvah you will forget about the things of this world, and if you accustom yourself to always serving in joy then the evil inclination and all evil forces will flee from you, for they cannot withstand the joy of serving G!d. For this very reason the evil inclination devotes all of its strength to quash this joy in you, and so your task is to have faith and take joy with all your heart in every act that you do for G!d.

And here is the most important thing: that when you wake in the morning you immediately consider how the Holy One of Blessing has returned your soul to you in order to serve G!d, and to accept upon yourself the yoke of the kingdom of heaven, to feel the awe of G!d upon you, and to maintain this mindset throughout the day.

So you should bless the Holy One of Blessing for everything, simply and genuinely, and also make those requests of the Holy One of Blessing as our holy sages taught us: “May the Torah be sweet in our mouths,” “May we feel at home in Your Torah,” and “Return us, our Father, to Your Torah” (5). And do not think that prayer is only for saints, because everything that our holy sages decreed is for all of us, and we all must fulfill our duty to G!d; it is for all of us to beseech the Holy One of Blessing, pouring out our hearts before Him, for there is no limit to G!d’s mercy, and G!d surely fulfills all of our heartfelt requests. We do not always recognize that G!d has already answered our prayers, because it is a difficult thing to see that everything is for the good, but one day we may merit to see that it is so.

And you, my brother, believe me that there is no easy way to grow stronger in your service to G!d. There is only serving with joy and praying simply and from the depths of your heart, whether from the prayer book or in your own words or even just in your thoughts. Pray that you can fulfill the will of the Holy One of Blessing and do nothing that is not G!d’s will, for the Holy One of Blessing protects those who ask with a whole heart.

[Signed,] the words of your brother, who wants the best for you, who waits confidently for the Holy One of Blessing to grant you success on your way and and to bring you close to Him, walking in G!d’s ways and doing G!d’s will with a whole heart.


1) From the morning prayers.   2) In Genesis 32:27 the angel says to Jacob at the end of their wrestling match, “Send me away, for the dawn has come,” and the midrash (Bereishit Rabbah 98:1) also brings Lamentations 3:23, “They are renewed every morning–great is Your faithfulness!” Together these verses are interpreted to mean that each night are souls are taken to be with G!d and in the morning they return to our bodies for the new day. For this reason the Talmud says that “Sleep is one-sixtieth of death” (Berachot 57b) and when we wake in the morning we say the Modeh Ani prayer, which takes its language from the above verse: “I thank you, Living and Eternal King, for mercifully returning to me my soul; great is Your faithfulness!”   3) Found in several places throughout the Torah.   4) The knotted threads that we are commanded to wear in Numbers 15:38 as a reminder of our duty to G!d.   5) All morning prayers related to the Torah.

This entry was posted in Concepts, Divine Service, Hasidic Masters, Prayer, Talmud, Tzaddik/ Rebbe, Yehuda Leib Alter of Ger/ Sfas Emes and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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