This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Yom Kippur (5762)
In another few hours it would be Yom Kippur and still no sign of the town.
Rav Mordechi was a Chassid of the third Rebbe of Chabad (Rabbi Menachem Mendel nicknamed the Tzemach Tzedek 1789 - 1866). The Rebbe sent him several months ago to wander the countryside of Russia from town to town, and inspire the Jews scattered there with the ideas of the Baal Shem Tov called "Chassidut", and up to now he had succeeded very well.
But yesterday he arrived at some town in the middle of nowhere, only to hear that all its Jews, about one hundred all together, had left the day before to the city of Vitebsk to pray in the Grand Synagogue there on Yom Kippur. ("Day of Forgiveness". (In the days of the Temple it was the only time that the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies.)
Suddenly he found himself stuck only a few hours away from the holiest day of the year, without a minyan (Jews always try to pray in groups of ten, called a "minyan").
"You won't find any Jews here, Rabbi" one of the townspeople told him. "But about two hours away there's a small village of Cantonists. They're a strange bunch, but that's the closest thing to Jews you'll find around here now".
[The Cantonists were Jews that had been "snatched" by the Government from their families when they were young children, and endured years of torture in the Czar's army, rather than leaving their Judaism. The few that survived were so emotionally and psychologically destroyed when they left the army years later, that they were never able to live normal lives. So they lived together in little villages, separated from the rest of the world.]
Immediately Rav Mordechi started walking, but after over an hour he still saw nothing. No...Wait! There seemed to be something on the horizon.
Sure enough, there it was! There were only a few old wooden houses, but this must be the village he was looking for.
The first resident that saw that the Rabbi enter the village called everyone else, and in no time they were all lined up with shining faces, taking turns shaking the newcomer's hand.
They were overjoyed! Such an honor to have a real Rabbi as their guest!
Suddenly they stepped back, formed a sort of huddle, and began whispering to one another. Then they fell silent, looked again at the Rabbi, and one of them stepped forward in great humility, cleared his throat and announced:
"Excuse me Rabbi, but we would be very honored if his majesty the Rabbi would please honor us with leading the prayers of Yom Kippur".
All the others stood staring at the Rabbi with wide pleading eyes shaking their heads beseechingly yes.
Rav Mordechi nodded in agreement, and the joyous hand shaking ritual was repeated once again.
"We only have one request" The man continued - "that one of us leads the last prayer of the holiday, N'eela".
An hour later they were all seated in the solemn atmosphere of Yom Kippur in their little Shul (synagogue) listening to the beautiful heartfelt prayers of Rav Mordechi, the Chassid of the Tzemach Tzedik.
Rav Mordechi felt something special was happening; he had never quite experienced a Yom Kippur like this. He had never been in such a minyan; each one of them had been through hell, things that he could never even dream of experiencing, only for the sake of HaShem. And although he knew all the books and they knew nothing, somehow he felt dwarfed by these simple people.
His soul flowed into the prayers, and it seemed to him that he had never sung so beautifully in his life. First Kol Nidre, then the evening prayer, then the following day he prayed the other three prayers, and even read from the Torah both times.
But finally at the end of the day came their turn; it was time for N'eela.
Rav Mordechi stepped back, took a seat in the small Shul with everyone else, and waited to see what was going to happen. Why did they want this prayer especially?
One of the Cantonists rose from his chair, took a few steps forward and stood at the podium, his back to the crowd.
Suddenly, before he began to lead the prayers, he started unbuttoning and then removing his shirt.
Rav Mordechi was about to say something, to protest; you can't take your shirt off in the Synagogue!
But as the shirt fell from the man's shoulders, it revealed hundreds of scars; years upon years of deep scars....each one because the man refused to leave the G-d of Israel.
Rav Mordechi gasped and tears ran from his eyes.
The Cantonist then raised his hands to G-d and said in a loud voice.
"G-d...Send us Moshiach! Redeem the Jewish people now!
I'm not asking for the sake of our families, because we don't have any families.
I'm not asking for the sake of our futures, because we have no futures.
I'm not asking for the sake of our livelihoods or our comfort, or our children, or our reputations, because we don't have any of those things either.
We're just asking that you should...
"Asay L'maan Shemechaw" - Do it for the sake of Your Great Name.
And then he put on his shirt and began the prayer.
That is what we are asking for this Day of Forgiveness:
"G-d! The world has suffered enough. Just send us Moshaich because You are good."
We want Moshiach NOW!
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