Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann
A Yom Kippur to Remember
The renowned sage and tzaddik Rabbi Yaakov Orenstein zt"l, the
"Yeshuos Yaakov," lived for a time in the city of Yeroslav, where his
father-in-law resided. During that period, the following story occurred,
which he was fond of relating to his students, in order to illustrate to
them the meaning of true love of Torah study.
One Erev Yom Kippur, as the Jews of Yeroslav arrived in shul and
donned their talleisim in preparation for the Kol Nidrei prayer, an
unfamiliar Jew - his entire being cloaked in fear and awe - entered the
synagogue, and, to the astonishment of the congregants, proceeded
immediately to the chazzan's stand, where he begun to chant the
familiar beginning of the Kol Nidrei, "Al da'as ha-Makom..." Not
wanting to create a stir, and perhaps an ugly controversy, on the
holiest night of the year, the shul's board discretely decided not to
forcibly remove him. After completing Kol Nidrei, the unknown guest
proceeded to daven Maariv. After Maariv, he continued standing as
he chanted the special liturgical poems. Then, still on his feet, he
began reciting the entire sefer Tehillim.
By the time his emotional and tear-soaked recitation of Tehillim was
over, the first rays of sun were already beginning to flicker over the
horizon. The mysterious and holy "guest" wasted little time in
beginning the Shacharis prayers. When the sefer Torah was removed
from the ark, he lained (read) from it himself, and then returned to
"his" spot at the chazzan's stand to lead the congregation in the
Mussaf prayers. By this point, most members had ceased resenting
the guest's uninvited intrusion, and were instead busy wondering how
anyone could display such stamina and endurance. Over the entire
period, his prayers had lost none of their intensity, nor their unworldly
sweetness. Indeed, some congregants began to whisper that their
mystery guest could surely be none other than Eliyahou ha-Navi, or
perhaps a heavenly angel!...
"I myself," the Yeshuos Yaakov would later tell, "became caught up
in the 'man-or-angel' question." After his arousing Mussaf prayers, he
went straight to Mincha and from there to Ne'ilah - the day's final
tefilah. During the last Kaddish, he himself blew the shofar, and the
lead the awe-struck congregation in the most amazing post-Yom
Kippur Maariv they had ever experienced. By this point, there was a
general consensus that an angel had certainly been sent from heaven
in order to arouse the Jews of Yeroslav to teshuvah (repentance), for
it seemed humanly impossible for one of flesh-and-blood to have put
on the type of display that they had witnessed over the last 24 hours.
"After Maariv," told the Yeshuos Yaakov, "my father-in-law
approached him and invited him to his house. Not wanting to miss
what transpired, I went along. My father-in-law asked his esteemed
guest to lead the household in havdalah, which he did, with his
characteristic fervour. He drank some wine, and sat down, saying that
he felt weak. He asked that they bring him something to 'strengthen
his heart.' Could it be that our angel was no angel after all?"
"It seems, however, that no matter what foods he was presented, he
displayed no interest. Eventually, it became clear that it was not food
and drink that he desired, but rather a Sukkah Gemara, which was
placed before him on the table, and from which he began to learn
with great joy and enthusiasm. I," said the Yeshuos Yaakov,
"concealed myself underneath a bed in the room, to see what would
transpire. All night long he learned with great love and eagerness,
completing the entire tractate, and leaving immediately afterward to
pray Shacharis. Some time later, we were able to establish the
identity of our 'heavenly' guest - the holy Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of
Berditchov, the Kedushas Levi zt"l."
The Klausenberger Rebbe zt"l received this story from his Rebbe,
Rabbi Teb'le of Diklo zt"l, who received it person-to-person back to
the Yeshuos Yaakov himself. "The amazing thing," the Klausenberger
Rebbe would say, "is that even after such heavenly prayers, Rabbi Levi
Yitzchak still felt weakened from not having learned Torah all day!"
Most of us are not on the level of the holy Kedushas Levi - who after
a whole day's fast was thirsty for nothing but Torah. It is inspiring to
consider, however, as we complete this year's Neilah prayers and
hurriedly begin davening Maariv, that there are some Jews whose
hunger and thirst for Torah study far outweigh their physical desires.
May our portion be among them! Have a good Shabbos, an easy and
uplifting fast, and a G'mar Chasimah Tova!
Text Copyright © 1999 Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann and Project Genesis, Inc.