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Friday, 29 September, 2017 - 12:00 pm

It was Yom Kippur eve, and the Jews in the city of Berditchev were gathered in the synagogue of the holy Rabbi Levi Yitzchak. Hundreds of men, women, and children waited anxiously for the saintly Tzaddik to begin the Kol Nidrei service. But as they watched him, they couldn’t help noticing how deeply troubled he appeared.

Reb Levi Yitzchak stood and asked the congregants to recite Tehillim, psalms, and to pour out their hearts and seek divine mercy. His usual look of joyful optimism was replaced by an expression of deep anguish and concern. He stood in the corner praying with great distress. Time passed—but still no Kol Nidrei service.

Finally, a long while later, the Rabbi’s expression shifted to one of great jubilation, and he began the Yom Kippur service with a radiant smile. Afterwards, he explained what had transpired:

“My dear brothers and sisters,” he said, “the period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur this year was not very positive for the Jewish people. In my perceptions of the heavenly courts, the judgment as to what sort of year this was going to be for our nation was not a favorable one at all. In fact, it was destined to be a year rife with pain and suffering, G-d forbid. All the greatest Tzaddikim tried to intercede and change this decree, but to no avail. With this fate looming, I simply could not allow the Yom Kippur service to commence. Something had to give, and arouse divine compassion to overturn things. I thought that perhaps our recital of extra Tehillim could turn the tide, but it did not.

“Now let me tell you a story,” he said. “In a nearby village is a woman who, for years, was unable to bear children. Every day, this poor lady poured out her heart, begging the Almighty to bless her with a child. Finally, this past year, a miracle occurred, and she gave birth to a baby boy. The incredible joy this woman felt was beyond imagination. From the moment he was born, this child was the center of her universe. Whenever she looked at him, she was overwhelmed with emotions of love and gratitude for the blessing that had come into her life. She never let him out of her sight.

“As the holy day of Yom Kippur approached, this woman began to wonder how she might be able to attend the Kol Nidrei services at the synagogue. Since she was a small child, she had never missed a Kol Nidrei service. She tried to arrange for a babysitter for just 30 minutes, but nobody was available; everyone was going to be in Shul. She was deeply bothered, but what could she do?

“That evening, the woman nursed her child, kissed him, and put him to sleep in his cradle. As she watched him lying there, a thought entered her mind: His schedule was that he would then sleep for several hours. The Shul was on the next block; surely she could steal away for a half hour?

“She walked the block to the synagogue. As she stood among the congregation, waiting for the cantor to begin Kol Nidrei, all kinds of alarming thoughts suddenly began to race through her mind: ‘What if my baby wakes up? What if he’s awake right now and is crying for me? What if I didn’t feed him enough and he’s hungry? Oh no! What if he moves around and turns over in his crib? What if he’s lying on the floor hurt? What did I do? What did I do? How could I have left him like that?!’

“With that, she darted out of the synagogue and began running back toward her house, all the while imagining horrible scenes of what might have happened. In record time, she burst through the door of her house, ran to the child’s room, and saw this beautiful baby—with a face as radiant as that of the high priest in the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur—lying in his cradle, sleeping peacefully as usual.”

“With tears of relief and love streaming down her cheeks, she cradled and kissed her son. As she stood there looking at this beautiful child, she said: ‘Ribono Shel Olam, Master of the world, I am so sorry that I cannot recite the words of the Kol Nidrei prayer to you. So here, dear G-d, is my own heartfelt prayer to you: May you be as concerned about your children and their wellbeing as a simple mother is for her child, and just as I have Nachas (pride) from this child, so may you have Nachas from all of your children.’

“With that,” said Reb Levi Yitzchak to his community, “the gates of heaven burst open. This woman’s heartfelt prayer reached heights that the prayers of the great Tzaddikim could not. The decree against our people was immediately overturned.”

My friends, this is the essence of what prayer is all about. It is sincere, heartfelt conversation with G-d, who is our loving parent.

When you pray on the holiest day of the year, reflect on the meaning of the words. Don’t worry if you can’t keep up with the congregation. One word spoken from the heart is greater than a thousand words mumbled without attention. If a particular passage touches you, stay there for a while, and reflect. Don’t worry about the Hebrew, G-d understands English, too. And don’t worry, the pages will be announced so you can always catch up.

May our hearts open in prayer and may G-d, like a merciful and loving parent, answer all of our desires.

A Happy New Year & Gmar Chatima Tova,
Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky


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