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Friday, 11 September, 2015 - 12:49 pm

The Pope goes to New York. He is picked up at the airport by a limousine driven by a Jew. He looks at the beautiful car and says to the driver, "You know, I hardly ever get to drive. Would you please let me?"

The Jewish driver is understandably hesitant and says, "I'm sorry, but I don't think I'm supposed to do that." 

But the Pope persists, "Please?" The driver finally lets up. "Oh, all right, I can't really say no to the Pope."

So the Pope  takes the wheel, and boy, is he a speed demon! He hits the gas and goes around 100 mph in a 45 zone. A policeman notices and pulls him over.

The cop walks up and asks the driver roll down the window. Startled and surprised, the young officer asks him to wait a minute, goes back to his patrol car and radios the chief.

Cop: Chief, I have a problem. Chief: What sort of problem? 

Cop: Well, you see, I pulled over this guy for driving way over the speed limit but it's someone really important.

Chief: Important like the mayor?

Cop: No, no, much more important than that.

Chief: Important like the governor?

Cop: Wayyyyyy more important than that.

Chief: Like the president?   Cop: More.

Chief: Who's more important than the president?

Cop: I don't know, but he's got the Pope driving for him!

And in the book of life, blessing, peace and prosperity...” This brief prayer inserted into the closing section of the Amidah is unique to the High Holy Day season. In it, we ask not just for life itself but also for a life filled with blessing, peace, and prosperity.

The Talmud  tells about Eliezer ben Durdaya, who was a sinful man all his life. One day, he had a sudden insight into the depth of his moral corruption and broke down weeping. Remorse surged so suddenly and fiercely that his heart gave way and he died. At that moment, says the Talmud, a heavenly voice called out, “Rabbi Eliezer is hereby granted eternal life."

The Talmud continues:

When the great Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi heard this story, he cried, saying: ”. A person can acquire the World to Come in a single hour“

But why was Rabbi Yehudah crying? Isn’t it good that Eliezer had such a breakthrough of spirit that he was able to acquire eternity in a single instant? He should have been overjoyed that a person could be given such opportunity that, in one hour he could change his destiny.

He cried because if Eliezer was able to acquire the World to Come in such a brief period of time, just imagine how much Eliezer could have accomplished had he spent his formidable energy in doing good during all the years of his life.

You see, canceling the past does not turn it into a record of achievement. It leaves it blank, a waste of spilled years,   like a bank account free  of debt but now standing at zero balance.

A Jewish sage once said that life is like a postcard. When we first start to write, we use big print, and waste valuable space on clichés: “How are you?” “How is the weather?” “Here it's very cold...” But as we approach the end of the card, and realize that we still have not said anything of importance as we originally intended, we no longer waste our valuable space. Instead, we write carefully, in small letters, sticking only to what is truly essential. 

So it is in life itself. We're not careful early on about accomplishing as much as we can, because we feel that there's so much time left. As  life passes, we  quickly realize that our time is precious and we try to abandon the unimportant things.  Suddenly, we are rushing to squeeze in as many good deeds as we can grasp.  If we realize now the value of time, we can utilize the time we do have for what is truly significant.

And so on the High Holy Days we ask G-d not just to write us into the Book of Life, but to help us write a life worth reading. We ask for a life filled with Divine energy, goodness, prosperity and blessing. We ask G-d for another year not merely to live, but to grow, to love and to give.

There was a Jewish child who endured unthinkable suffering at the hands of the Nazis in seven different death camps. At the age of ten, he came to Auschwitz with his father, who perished there on the very day of liberation. The young boy, spoke twice with the monster Dr. Joseph Mengeleh, each time surviving him miraculously.

At the age of 11, he was sent on the Death March from Poland to Germany, as the Russians were invading. The march continued for seven days, in which he and the other Jews were not allowed to eat anything besides the muddy snow on the earth. At some point he was unable to march any longer. His legs  were so badly injured and he was in so much pain that he was ready to give up and get shot.  Suddenly , an image appeared in his mind.  He  suddenly remembered the warm and bright Shabbat table at his home before the war, where his father often repeated a story of the Baal Shem Tov.  In the story , a man left home, and went to visit the holy Baal Shem Tov in another city, when the man's wife went into pre-term labor.

He was called  by the midwife to return home immediately, and the only way home was through dark and dangerous woods, which were filled with thieves at night. The Baal Shem Tov told the man to go home without fear, “Because a Jew never walks alone.” As the boy was on the death march, he began telling himself “A Jew never walks alone.” “He felt a new vitality, and he survived.

Friends, this young boy’s name is Rabbi Nissan Mangel, and the machazor (holiday prayer book) that many thousands  of Jewish people pray in every Chabad that uses English translation was translated by him.

Beyond his large and beautiful family, we are all direct beneficiaries of his survival. But think about it: What saved him?

The conviction that we never walk alone; that G-d is with us.  Indeed, this young boy has brought the gift of prayer, a bond  with G-d, to countless Jews, including all of us who pray using his prayer book! Keep your faith!!


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky


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