A man once came to Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov (The “Besht,” 1698-1760, founder of the Chassidic movement) and poured out his heart:
“Rebbe!” he cried, “I don’t understand what is happening to me. A while ago, I decided to dedicate myself to the service of the Almighty, and I immediately found myself invigorated with spiritual life: when I prayed, my soul soared in ecstasy; when I studied Torah, the gates of wisdom opened before me; when I did a mitzvah, I was suffused with a wonderful joy. But soon after, I lost it all. My prayers are dry. When I try to study, I stare for hours at the page without comprehending a word. My deeds have become mechanical and devoid of meaning. Rebbe, what happened?”
“Let me tell you a story,” said the Besht. “A man once entered a shop in which all types of delicacies were displayed. He noticed that people were partaking of the food free of charge, with the consent and encouragement of the shopkeeper. So he decided that he, too, should take advantage of the shopkeeper’s generosity. After sampling each dish on the counter, he served himself a generous helping of a particularly appealing food.
“Wait a minute, my friend,” objected the shopkeeper, “that would be 50 kopeks.”
“But I don’t understand,” said the surprised ‘customer.’ “Why are you suddenly demanding payment? Up until now, you allowed me to eat for free!”
“Only because it is in my interest that people sample my wares,” replied the shopkeeper, “so that they may learn how desirable they are. But after you have already tasted them and have appreciated their worth, it’s time to start paying for your pleasure.”
“Nothing worthwhile in life is free of charge,” concluded the Besht, “particularly in matters of the spirit. The sublime pleasures of divine service can be acquired only with the currency of perseverance and toil. Nevertheless, the Almighty offers a free ‘taste’ of His intimacy to all who seek Him with a true heart. But once one has sampled these heavenly wares, it’s time to get to work….”
Adapted from the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe by Yanki Tauber