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Ten Days of Repentance (5761 (1))
This story is really about the first night of Slichot (prayers said in the month before Rosh HaShanah to prepare for that holiday) but it is very relevant to the prayers of the entire year, especially Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur.
Over one hundred years ago in the town of Belz there was a very holy Rabbi called Rav Shalom of Belz. He had tens of thousands of Chassidim and his name was famous throughout the Jewish Ashkenazic world.
One year on the first night of Slichot, (which begins at midnight after Shabbos before Rosh HaShanah), instead of going to the large Shul to signal the beginning of the prayers he ordered his secretary to harness the horses they were going into the woods.
The astonished secretary wanted to remind the Rebbe that thousands of Chassidim were waiting in the Shul but he knew better than to ask questions and went out to prepare the wagon.
After a half hour drive the Rebbe signaled him to stop, they alighted and walked down a narrow path till they saw a small hut in the distance. The Rebbe signaled the secretary to wait for him and he tiptoed alone up to the window and peeked in.
There, inside, sat an old Jewish man alone at a table. On the table was a bottle of Vodka and two small cups, one in front of him and the other before the empty seat opposite him.
Through the window the Rebbe couldn’t hear what the old man was saying, but he saw him raise his cup in L’Chiam, drink it, then he drank the second cup as well. This he repeated two more times at which time the Rebbe tiptoed back to the secretary, they walked quickly to the wagon and the Rebbe motioned him to drive back home.
The Chassidim meanwhile had been waiting for over an hour and were becoming worried. But when the doors of the Synagogue opened and the Rebbe entered, the congregation fell silent all eyes followed him to his place at the front of the Shul, and the room burst into prayer as they began Slichot. When the prayer ended the Rebbe turned to his secretary and said, “There is one old man that came in after everyone and I’m sure he will finish after everyone also. He’s the one I saw in the house in the woods, please wait for him to finish and tell him I want him to come to my study and speak to him alone.
One half an hour later the simple Jew was standing in fear and trepidation before the Holy Rebbe. “Sit down Zeleg” Said the Rebbe, “I want you to tell me what you did in your house before you came here tonight. What were those two cups of vodka for and that strange L’chiam you made?”
“The Rebbe knows that!?” he asked, his eyes were bulging out in amazement, he was really shaking now. “How does the Rebbe know?”
“I sensed that something important was going to happen” the Rebbe answered, “so I drove to the woods and peeked in your window, but I want to understand what you did there.”
The Rebbe?! The Rebbe peeked in my window!?? How could it be? I am a nothing!” Now the poor Chassid was really confused. He paused a moment and realized that there was no way out, so he sat down and began to explain.
“I’m a poor man, Rebbe, I have no children and my wife passed on years ago. I just live alone with my few farm animals, that’s all. That is until a few months ago.
What happened is that one day my cow got sick. So I prayed to G-d to heal the cow. ‘After all’, I said to G-d ‘You create the entire world and everything in it, certainly you can heal ONE COW!”
But the cow got worse. So I said ‘Listen HaShem, if You don’t heal that cow I’m not going to the Shul (Synagogue) any more!” I figured that if HaShem doesn’t care about me, I mean, it’s NOTHING for Him to heal one old cow! So why should I care?
But the cow died and so I, I got mad and … I stopped going to Shul. Then my goat got sick. I said to G-d ‘ What! You haven’t had enough? Do you think I’m bluffing? Listen, if this goat dies I’m not putting on Tefillin any more!’ So the goat dies and I stopped putting on Tefillin.
Then my chickens got ill and I told HaShem that if they die I’m not going to make Kiddush or keep Shabbos, and a week later I was without chickens and HaShem was without my Shabbos.
Well, I held out for over a week until suddenly I realized that the time for Slichot is approaching. I thought to myself, ‘What, Zeleg, you aren’t going to go say Slichot with the Rebbe? What, are you crazy!??’ But on the other hand I was angry with HaShem and I wasn’t going to the Shul.
So I remembered that once I had an argument with Shmerel the butcher. For about a month we didn’t even say hello. Then one night he came to my house with a bottle of vodka and said ‘Let’s forget the past and be friends, enough enemies we have from the goyim why be enemies.” So we made three Le’ chiams, shook hands and even danced around a little together and we were friends again. So I figured I would do the same thing with Gd. I invited Him to sit opposite me poured us two cups and said ‘Listen HaShem you forget my faults and I’ll forget yours. All Right?’
So I drank my cup and understood that HaShem wanted me to drink His. And after we did it twice more I stood up and we danced together! Then I felt better and came to Slichot.’
The Rebbe became very serious. He looked deeply into Zeleg’s innocent eyes and said. ‘Listen to me Zeleg. Before we began Slichos I saw that in heaven there was a terrible decree on our holy congregation. The reason was that, well, you know there are a lot of distractions and other excuses. The Chassidim were saying the words in the prayer book but they weren’t really praying seriously to G-d.
But you, Zeleg, you talked to G-d like He is your friend. Zeleg, your simple heart saved the entire congregation!’
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