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Yom Kippur: The Day of Atonement

A story told by Marc Gafni in his book Uncertainty

It had been a particularly hard year. The community of Chassidim gathered on the Day of Atonement, the fast day when all Jews pray to God for forgiveness for their sins, and the growling in their stomachs was not as unfamiliar as they would have wished. Suddenly a man burst into the synagogue, pushed his way through the lines of silent supplicates, marched straight up to the holy ark and demanded to speak to God. The Chassidim were outraged at this heretical disruption of the dignity of this service of repentance, but the Rebbe signaled them to let the man be. They watched as the man spoke as if to the ceiling, gestured one way and then the other, then eventually wiped his hands as if concluding a satisfying business deal, and marched out of the synagogue.

The following day the Rebbe summoned the man to his study and reassured him that he was not angry. “Only please,” said the Rebbe, “please tell me what you said; to have spoken to God with such audacity on Yom Kippur … you must be a very holy man.”

“Well,” began the man, “I’m really not very holy at all. I told God that I was sorry: I’d not had the best of years. I could have gone to synagogue more, maybe I could have been a bit more generous in my donations to charity, perhaps I should have spoken more kindly to my wife. Taken for all in all, I said, maybe this year my bad deeds overtook my good ones. But you, God, what kind of a year have you had? God, do you know how many people starved to death this year? God, do you know how many people suffered from the ice and snow you sent us last January? And Moishe down the road – he cries himself to sleep every night after you took away his wife in childbirth. Can’t you hear him? And old Hannah, her insides so eaten away by disease she looks like a walking corpse – can’t you see her? My own children – chilblains on their feet because I can’t afford to buy them new shoes – can’t you feel their pain? And the wars, and the diseases, and the murders… God, you know, I may have not had the greatest of years, but you! You’ve had a terrible year! God, I think I’ll do you a deal. If you forgive me my trespasses, I’ll forgive you yours.’”

The Rebbe stood looking at the man with tears in his eyes. “Fool,” he said sadly, “If you had only prayed in the name of us all, you would have brought immediate redemption to the world.”

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