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Ten Days of Repentance (5761 (2))

In the time of the Holy Temple, Yom Kippur was centered on one man; the Cohen Gadol. He alone entered the Holy of Holies and did all the work while the rest of the Jewish people spent the entire day waiting outside of the Bait HaMikdosh for him to finish.

To understand this, let’ s first understand what ‘Tshuva’ means. This coming Shabbat has two names; Shabbat Shuva after the first word of the HafTorah portion, and Shabbat Tshuva because it is one of the ‘Ten Days of Tshuva’. But both of them imply what is usually translated as ‘repentance’.

The Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chassidic movement, began a great ‘revolution’ in the Jewish world by explaining that it’s not so. Tshuva, he claimed, is a purely Jewish concept and means to ‘return’ to one’ s source.

Since the source of every Jew is pure Gdliness (The Torah calls them ‘Sons of Gd’) and G-D is unlimited (i.e. infinitely real and good), therefore there can be no limit to the commandment of Tshuva.

Repentance, said the Baal Shem, is for sinners. But everyone, even the completely righteous, must do Tshuva!

As it says in the ‘Zohar’; ‘The Moshiach will make even the Tzaddikm (righteous) do Tshuva”.

But this idea, which is today the foundation of the ‘Tshuva movement’, met great opposition by rigid Torah scholars (Mitnagdim) of that day.

To understand all this here is a story. The city of Vilna two hundred years ago was a great center of learning. Thousands of genius Torah Scholars studied Talmud day and night and the town was always filled with the sound of Torah.

But as great as they were in scholarship so they were adamant in their hatred of the Chassidim, especially the ‘Chabad’ Chassidim and their leader, Rebbe Shneur Zalman of Laidi.

One of the richest and most influential scholars in Vilna was named Reb Mair Refoels, and here is how he ironically became a devoted follower of that very Rebbe:

It was late one rainy night when a knock was heard at Reb Mair’s door. When his wife opened the door, they were surprised to see standing before them a woman, wet, ragged and tired from an obviously long harrowing journey. “Is this the house of Rabbi Mair Refoels?” She shouted over the noise of the rain. When Reb Mair’s wife nodded yes, she entered saying, “The Holy Rebbe of Chabad, Rav Shneur Zalman told me to come to Rab Mair Refoels and that he will find my husband.”

Rav Mair turned to his wife in disbelief.

“Who is this woman?! What does she want? What husband?!” His wife took the woman into the kitchen gave her a warm bowl of soup and heard the following explanation: Her husband ran away three years ago without giving her a bill of divorce (‘get’) and now according to the Torah she was an ‘Aguna’ and could never remarry until she gets a proper divorce.

Her distraught father went to Rebbe Shneur Zalman who told him that the only man can help is Rab Mair Refoels in Vilna and that she should go there and not leave him alone till he finds the lost man.

“So now, here I am”, she announced, “And I’m not leaving until Rab Mair does what the Rebbe said.”

The next day the city was abuzz with this latest antic of the ‘crazy Chabad Rebbe’.

Needless to say, she made Reb Meir’s life unbearable. But after a few weeks he found her a room to live in, and the whole matter was almost forgotten. Then one day, months later, a Russian officer arrived at Rab Mair’s house and told him that they were bringing a wagon full of prisoners through Vilna on their way to jail, and one of the prisoners mentioned that he was a Jew , and that his name was such-and-such from such-and-such a city and they wanted to know if the Rav recognized him.

When Rab Refoels heard the name he suddenly remembered that it was the same as that of the aguna’s wayward husband. She was immediately brought, and identified him. Rab Mair convinced him to give a ‘get’ and within an hour she was miraculously free!

Needless to say Rav Mair began to change his mind about the Rebbe, but he kept it to himself, lest he be accused of heresy.

Then, a few months later, something happened that made him regret his change of his mind.

It happened that two rich businessmen in Vilna had been falsely accused of cheating on their Tax returns. They had been sentenced, first by a lower court and then by a court of appeals, to three years at hard labor in Siberia, which meant almost sure death for the both of them.

They were desperate; they knew that only a miracle that would save them and that is why they were willing to listen when a guest passing through Vilna suggested that the Rebbe of Chabad could help. Like drowning men grasping for straws, they decided to ask Reb Refoels for his opinion, and to their surprise Reb Refoels told them to go to the Rebbe, but not to tell anyone of the trip.

After an arduous journey of several days, there they were, standing before the Rebbe. At first they regretted the whole business, in case anyone in Vilna heard about it. But on the other hand, they kept reminding themselves that they had nothing to loose.

So they poured their hearts out, and when they finished they were both standing there weeping like children.

The Rebbe closed his eyes for a few minutes in deep thought, then opened them and asked. “Do you know what it means when it says in the Talmud that the Kingship of Earth is like the Kingship of Heaven?” They looked at each other and shrugged their shoulders. The Rebbe answered his own question “It means that just as G-D has a name written in the Torah, but is not called by that name, so also the King has a family name, Romanoff, but is called by a different title.”

“Yes, Rebbe, but what about our problem? What of our trial??”

The Rebbe paid no more attention to them. The meeting was over!! They quickly made their exit and returned in tears to Vilna. Of course Rab Refoels apologized and admitted that he had made a big mistake, and he decided in his heart that the story with the aguna was no more than a coincidence.

Meanwhile, the two accused men decided on a desperate plan. They heard that i n Petersburg there was a special royal garden reserved for the leisure of only the Czar and his ministers. They would travel to Petersburg; sneak into this garden and try to intercept the minister of Justice there, hoping against all hope that they could arouse his mercy.

They caught the first train, and a day later they had succeeded in finding the keeper of the garden, and bribing him not only to tell them when the Minister of Justice would take his stroll, but also to let them sneak in before-hand.

T hey had to enter and hide there while it was still night and wait several hours crouching in the bushes, but finally the moment came. The Minister was approaching and the keeper was signaling them. They both jumped from the bushes and threw themselves prostrate at the Minister’s feet. “Please have mercy on us, we are innocent!! We are loyal citizens falsely charged!!!”

They cried and wept.

“What is this?!” Said the Minister with a smile on his face, “Innocent? Ahh… You must think that I am the Minister of Justice. Well, I’m not. The Minister of Justice is ill, so I took his turn. I am the Minister of Education.”

Our heroes were just about to begin crying again when the Minister interrupted them. “Tell me, you are religious Jews are you not?” When they nodded in the affirmative he continued. “Well isn’t this an amazing coincidence! Perhaps you can help me. Just today the Czar called me into his study and asked me a question that I did not know how to answer, perhaps you can help me?”

They again nodded saying “We will try our best.”

“Excellent! Then we will begin. The Czar heard that it is written in your Talmud that the Kingship of the earth is similar to the Kingship of G-d, and he asked for an explanation. I told him I would investigate but I really don ’t know where to begin. Can you explain it?”

The two partners looked at each other in amazement! This was what the Rebbe had forseen! When they repeated the answer of the Rebbe, at first the Minister was quiet, but slowly a large grin appeared on his face.

“I know the Czar.” He said, “He is really going to like this answer! He will really be pleased.” He shook hands with the two men and added, “now you must tell me your names and what exactly you were falsely accused of, I’ m sure His Majesty will be more than glad to help.”

After Rab Mair heard this, both he and the two businessmen decided to begin learning the teachings (Chassidut) of the Rebbe and eventually they all became Chabad Chassidim.

This explains the work of the Cohen Gadol. In every generation there is at least one Jew whose only interest in life is to renew the connection of all the Jewish people with G-D. The Baal Shem Tov and Shneur Zalman of Chabad were two examples, and the present Rebbe of Chabad is another.

May this Yom Kippur we all see the Rebbe come out of the Holy of Holies and announce that the Jewish People have all been connected to their source.

Copyright © 1999-2017 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.

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