Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Yom Kippur Stories

A few vignettes for Yom Kippur.

One year during davening (prayers) on Yom Kippur, the Alter Rebbe, Reb Shneur Zalman of Liadi (one of the early chassidic masters), was seen taking off his tallis (prayer shawl) in the middle of the service. It was just before musaf when he put his tallis aside, and hastily made his way for the door of the shul. The chassidim were flabergasted. Came the beginning of musaf, and the Rebbe had not yet returned. He had not returned for the rest of the davening, in fact. And so a delegation was sent out to look for the Rebbe on this cold day. But he was nowhere to be seen in the houses, and nowhere to be seen in the town. They asked the children playing in the street if they had seen the Rebbe, and the children pointed in the direction that they had last seen him walk in haste. The delegation then came about some more children and, once again, followed in the direction that they had indicated. Finally, they were at the edge of town. They walked on a bit, and there was Reb Shneur Zalman, chopping wood in the cold, on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year. The chassidim looked on in utter astonishment until they mustered up the courage to approach the Rebbe. It turns out that there was a sickly, neglected widow at the edge of town, whom the Rebbe forgot to visit before the start of the holiday. He was customarily active in buying her food, providing her with wood to heat her home, and looking after her general well-being. "Unfortunately, too many widows are neglected on the holidays," said the Rebbe. Although any type of labor is forbidden on Yom Kippur, the Rebbe found it his duty, as soon as he remembered that he had not come to the aid of this older woman, to make his way out of the shul, even during the davening, and to take upon himself the aveirah (sin) of working on this holiest of days, in order that a widow would not be left in the cold.

Reb Dovid of Lelov was making his way to shul one year on Erev Yom Kippur. Passing by a house, he heard the wail of a baby. He opened the door, and found the baby lying wrapped up on the table, with no parents to be seen. It was obvious what had happened: The parents had gone to shul to hear Kol Nidrei, and they simply left the baby behind, hoping that it would rest quietly and peacefully until they had returned an hour or two later. Reb Dovid was horrified at this idea. He sat with the baby, and cradled it in his arms for the complete duration of Kol Nidrei. Meanwhile, the shul was abuzz with rumors and theories as to what could have happened to the Rebbe on the most important night of the year! The door to the house finally opened, and the baby's parents were astonished to see the Lelover Rebbe sitting at their table with their baby in his hands. "One must not leave a young baby unguarded EVEN if it is to hear Kol Nidrei on Yom Kippur," said the Rebbe. Here too, the Rebbe had compromised his own spiritual obligations on Yom Kippur, in order to give comfort and warmth to a needy infant.

Rav Zelig Epstein, Rosh Yeshiva Shar Hatorah - Grodno, who recently passed away, had been friendly with a family. The parents survived the Holocaust, but only one of the children survived, a boy. The father had passed away at some point, and the son died in the mother's own lifetime, as well. Now this woman lived in a section of New York that was not inhabited by many Jews. Her neighborhood was certainly not in walking distance and, due to her advanced age and her poor health, she would not be able to attend Yom Kippur services, and she would, most likely, not even come into contact with any other Jews during the holiest day of the year. Rav Zelig Epstein walked into Yeshiva Torah Voda'ath, then in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, and went up to Rav Yaakom Kamenetzky, as he was reciting kriyas shema. At Rav Kamenetzky's conclusion Rav Epstein whispered his shailah (religious question) into his ear: Could he take a bus on Yom Kippur to visit a poor, sickly widow at the edge of town, who doesn't have a friend or relative left in the world. Rav Kamenetzky put his hand in his pocket and handed Rav Epstein change for the bus.

One year for Yom Kippur at yeshiva Ponovitch in Bnei Brak, there was an issue at hand. The yeshiva was a popular place to daven (pray) for the High Holidays, but the yeshiva just didn't have enough room. Year after year, they made expansions, but more people kept on coming. One year some of the members of the yeshiva came up with a plan. They would put a mechitzah (separation) through the ezras nashim (women's section), thereby decreasing the ezras nashim by half, and allowing more men to enter the yeshiva to daven. The question was taken to Rav Shach. "Do you know what kind of women come to shul on Yom Kippur to daven?" he asked. "The women with the babies, the women with the families are home with the kids. Those that come are made up of widows, women who are alone, and so on. And the tefilla (prayers) of the entire yeshiva ascends to heaven on the backs of these women. So no, you may not put up a second mechitza!"

The Tolna Rebbe of Jerusalem told a story of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach. It was erev Yom Kippur, and everyone was scrambling with last minute preparations. Rav Shlomo Zalman, presumably busier than anyone in the Sha'arei Chesed vicinity, undoubtedly answering last minute shailos on fasting, and doing his own spiritual hachanah (preparation), had heard about a young girl of fifteen. She was broken down emotionally; she had lost her Yiddishkeit (Judaism) all-together. Nothing in the world could help her. On Erev Yom Kippur, a few hours before Kol Nidrei, Rav Shlomo Zalman called this girl up, and asked, "how are you?"
After the holiday, the girl's father came to Rav Shlomo Zalman, and said, "you were mechaye meisim (you resurrected the dead). After the phone call, she asked me for a ticket to go to shul to hear Kol Nidrei." The busiest time of year, and the busiest Rav around, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, took the time to make a phone call to a young girl in need. And it changed her life.


Yisrael Aharon said...

got any good Rebbe succos stories? I would love to hear some...

Chazzan805 said...

Just need the time! But yes, I'll put one or two good ones up.

Yisrael Aharon said...

but before succos, please!