The Verse states about the fasting of Yom Kippur: “It shall be a sabbath of complete rest for you, and you shall practice self-denial; on the ninth day of the month at evening, from evening to evening, you shall observe this your sabbath.” (Vayikra 23:32) The Targum Yonasan [who was a Tana, a student of Hillel the Elder] translates the verse as stated above but adds a few words that do not appear in the Verse: “celebrate your holiday with joy.” We are about to be judged and have our entire year, and may be our life, decided by the Upper Court, how can we not fear and worry? The Zohar [Parashas Pinchas] asks why are the Services of Yom Kippur begin with “Kol Nidrei”, which is a cancellation of vows and oaths, while this was already accomplished prior to Rosh Hashana, so why are we repeating it? The Zohar answers that “Kol Nidrei” is not to revoke our vows but Hashem’s vows and oaths made when He decreed sentences on us, so He could now remove all the bad decrees. Hence, if one has in mind during Kol Nidrei the problem that’s makes his life miserable, and requests from Hashem to free him from it, he will be set free. This is a tremendous present Hashem is handing before even starting Yom Kippur, so we could rejoice and deserve a life of bounty, in spiritual and mundane matters. Is it not an excellent reason to be happy? Hashem demonstrates His infinite love to us; in return, all He requests is a little bit of thoughts. The following paragraph was sent to me by a friend from LA. [I just made a few modifications], but these are the thoughts Hashem is seeking, it is really beautiful: I owe you an apology, I just want to say I’m sorry. For so many years, I thought you were a chore. I didn’t have much time for you. It took so much effort to focus, and I prioritized my mundane responsibilities was always running out the door. No time to stop. I didn’t think I needed you. But I was wrong, so wrong! My soul needs you so much. I yearned to have a connection to You Hashem! but I was feeding that thirst with of all sorts of mundane thrills. I struggled with negative emotions, with a lack of a center, with so many unhelpful thoughts. I needed you in my life. I needed you to help me heal. To give me a sense of peace and connection to my Creator.
In fact, the Hebrew word for prayer, Tefilah, is rooted in the word connection. I needed to put the spinning in my life on pause for a few moments every morning, for the sake of my soul, and even for the sake of my brain. Time? I learned that if I needed life-saving dialysis, I would make time for it. And that is how I want to relate to you. Not like a chore and not like a luxury. But like life-saving oxygen. Like an experience, not a mumble jumble of words. A time to meditate. To slow down my thoughts and be grateful for the blessings in my life. To bless G-d and hear myself thanking him for all that I have. The Lubavitcher Rebbe wrote mind-blowing letter regarding women and prayer: “Besides, there is nothing more conducive to attune the mind and heart towards the consciousness of Hashem’s Presence than regular prayer, where the first condition is ‘Know before Whom you are standing.’ Fostering this consciousness is very helpful for the attainment of peace of mind and general contentment. For through prayer and direct personal contact with the Almighty, one is reminded every day that G-d is not far away, in the Seventh Heaven, but is present and here, and His benevolent Providence extends to each and every one individually. This point has also been greatly emphasized by the Alter Rebbe in his book of Tanya, where he urges everyone to remember that ‘Behold, G-d is standing near him.’ With this in mind, there is no room left for any anxiety or worry, as King David, the Sweet Singer of Israel, said, ‘G-d is my shepherd, I shall not want,’ ‘G-d is with me, I shall not fear,’ etc. Thus, this is no longer a theoretical idea, but becomes a personal experience in the everyday life.” When Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi was 20 years old, he had a crucial decision to make. Vilna and Mezritch were two great Jewish capitals and centers in Eastern Europe. Which should he travel to? He chose Mezritch. For in Vilna, they taught how to learn Torah. And that he already had a handle on. But in Mezritch, they taught how to pray. About that, he felt he knew lit
tle. In Mezritch, he would learn the teachings of Chassidus and how a Jew ought to pray. For what is prayer? A time to sing to thanks Hashem. And not just any song, but the song of the soul. The key to have a successful Yom Kippur and to earn a better life; is to sing from the depth of your soul! Here’s an inspiring story: Once, on the evening before Yom Kippur, one of the Chassidim of Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk asked his Rebbe to allow him to see how he, Rabbi Elimelech, observes the custom of kaparos. “How I do kaparos?” repeated Rabbi Elimelech. “How do you do kaparos?” “I am an ordinary Jew — I do what everyone else does. I hold the rooster in one hand, the prayer book in the other, and recite the text, ‘This is my exchange, this is in my stead, this is my atonement…'” “That’s exactly what I do,” said Rabbi Elimelech. “I take the rooster in one hand, the prayer book in the other, and recite the text. Actually, there might be a certain difference between your kaparos and mine: you probably make sure to use a white rooster, while to me it makes no difference: white, black, brown — a rooster’s a rooster…”
But the Chassid persisted that his Rebbe’s kaparos was certainly no ordinary event. He had been coming to Lizhensk to pray with the Rebbe every Yom Kippur for more than twenty years now and had always wanted to observe his Rebbe at this most solemn moment. “You want to see an extraordinary kaparos?” said Rabbi Elimelech. “Go observe how Moshe the tavernkeeper does kaparos. Now, there you’ll see something far more inspiring than my own, ordinary kaparos.” The Chassid located Moshe’s tavern at a crossroads se.
veral miles outside of Lizhensk and asked to stay the night. “I’m sorry,” said the tavern-keeper. “As you see, this is a small establishment, and we don’t have any rooms to let. There’s an inn a small distance further down the road.” “Please,” begged the Chassid, “I’ve been traveling all day, and I want to rest awhile. I don’t need a room — I’ll just curl up in a corner for a few hours and be on my way.” “O.K.,” said Moshe. “We’ll be closing up shortly, and then you can get some sleep.” After much shouting, cajoling and threatening, Moshe succeeded in herding his clientele of drunken peasants out the door. The chairs and tables were stacked in a corner, and the room, which also served as the tavern-keeper’s living quarters, readied for the night. Midnight had long passed, and the hour of kaparos was approaching. The Chassid, wrapped in his blanket under a table, feigned sleep, but kept watch in the darkened room, determined not to miss anything. Before dawn, Moshe rose from his bed, washed his hands and recited the morning blessings. “Time for kaparos!” he called quietly to his wife, taking care not to wake his guest. “Yentel, please bring me the notebook — it’s on the shelf above the cupboard.” Moshe sat himself on a small stool, lit a candle, and began reading from the notebook, unaware that his “sleeping” guest was wide awake and straining to hear every word. The notebook was a diary of all the misdeeds and transgressions the tavern-keeper had committed in the course of the year, the date, time and circumstance of each scrupulously noted. His “sins” were quite benign — a word of gossip one day, oversleeping the time for prayer on another, neglecting to give his daily coin to charity on a third — but by the time Moshe had read through the first few pages, his face was bathed in tears. For more than an hour Moshe read and wept, until the last page had been turned. “Yentel,” he now called to his wife, “bring me the second notebook.” This, too, was a diary — of all the troubles and misfortunes that had befallen him in the course of the year. On this day Moshe was beaten by a gang of peasants, on that day his child fell ill; once, in the dead of winter, the family had frozen for several nights for lack of firewood; another time their cow had died, and there was no milk until enough rubles had been saved to buy another. When he had finished reading the second notebook, the tavern-keeper lifted his eyes heavenward and said: “So you see, dear Father in Heaven, I have sinned against You. Last year I repented and promised to fulfill Your commandments, but I repeatedly succumbed to my evil inclination. But last year I also prayed and begged You for a year of health and prosperity, and I trusted in You that it would indeed be this way.
“Dear Father, today is the eve of Yom Kippur, when everyone forgives and is forgiven. Let us put the past behind us. I’ll accept my troubles as atonement for my sins, and You, in Your great mercy, shall do the same.” Moshe took the two notebooks in his hands, raised them aloft, circled them three times above his head, and said: “This is my exchange, this is in my stead, this is my atonement.” He then threw them into the fireplace, where the smoldering coals soon turned the tear-stained pages to ashes.
By Rabbi Shimon Fridmann * [email protected] * 305.985.3461
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