Rav Sholom Shvadron told the following story:
There was a man who had one son. The son was the joy of the man’s life. When the child got older, he child decided to move overseas. The man was greatly saddened by the fact that the ocean would be separating him from his son. While overseas, the son got married and had children. The father greatly desired to see his son, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren. The father constantly wrote to his son that he should come visit with his family. However, each time the invitation was extended, the son always replied that for some reason or another, a visit just was not foreseeable any time in the near future. Since this was the case, and the father’s urge to see his son just grew over time, the father wrote to his son that since it was difficult for the son to make the trip, he would come and make the long journey to see the son and his family.
From the time that the father decided he was going to make this trip, he was busy with all sorts of preparations. The father’s excitement grew as his departure date drew closer. Finally the day arrived. He embarked the ship laden with packages and gifts for his son and his family. Each day, the father did not cease to think about the fact that he would soon be seeing his son. From time to time, he would go on deck to see if they were nearing dry land. One morning, when he looked out, he saw the coastline, and his heart skipped a beat – he would soon be seeing his son! As the ship moved into the port, he scanned the people standing around, hoping to catch a glimpse of his son. However, he could not find him. He had no choice but to wait until he disembarked from the ship, and then search for his son.
One can only imagine how distraught the father was when his son was nowhere to be found. However, the father immediately gave his son the benefit of the doubt. He assumed that his son must have been so busy preparing for his imminent arrival that he was not able to meet him at the port. In order not to waste precious time, the father rushed to the train station so he would not miss the next train to the town where his son lived. Throughout his train ride, he was sure that his son would be there to meet him at the station. His excitement was building with each mile. When the train arrived at the station, he ran off the train, not wanting to miss his son. His disappointment with not finding his son there was greater than before. However, now his thoughts were not so much focused on the fact that his son might be busy with preparations. Instead, he started worrying: Did his son get into an accident, was everything all right?
With a heart full of worry and anxiety, the father hailed a cab to take him to his son’s house. During the ride, he started imagining the warm reception awaiting him at the house. However, this dream was shattered as well. When the father arrived at the house, he found all the curtains drawn, and only a faint light could made out in one of the rooms of the house. Again the father started worrying. Was everyone healthy, did anything bad happen? His hands trembled as he knocked on the door. He knocked and waited for an answer, but there was none. He knocked again, this time harder, yet there was still no answer. Finally after knocking for a third time, he heard a faint “Who’s there?” coming from the house. The father immediately recognized the voice – it was his son, who he longed to see. His excitement was unbounded knowing that the only thing that separated him from seeing his son was a door. The father responded “It is me, your father, who traveled from afar to see you! Please, open the door!”
After a moment of silence, the son answered “Father, I have already removed my clothes for the night. Would it be a great trouble if you could stay at the hotel across the street tonight? I’m already in bed, and its a little difficult for me to come to the door right now. I will pick you up first thing in the morning.” When the father heard this, he was despondent and infuriated. He thought “For years I have greatly desired to see my son. I had hoped that he would honor me and come visit me. However, that did not happen, and I had to go visit him. I had no doubt that he would be there with his children waiting for me at the port, yet he did not do this either. I thought that perhaps he had a reason that prevented him from greeting me at the port, but he would definitely be at the train station. He wasn’t there. I finally come to his house only to find it dark. I knock on the door, only to find that my son is too lazy to even let me inside! After all this, I should wait for HIM at a hotel? I most certainly will NOT do this! ” The father hailed the first taxi he could find, and went to the train station. He caught the first train back to the port, and immediately got on a ship headed back to his home, without even seeing his son.
The next morning, the son awoke. His heart was filled with remorse and regret for how he had treated his father the night before. He quickly got dressed, and ran to the hotel to find his father. The way the son felt upon discovering that his father was not there cannot be described. To call it anguish, remorse, or pain would only be an understatement.
Throughout the whole year, Hashem waits for the people of the nation of Israel to return to him with a complete heart. Hashem sees that we are not alacritious, and that we do not run to repent. Therefore, during this time of the year, Hashem comes to us. These days are days of mercy, which makes it even easier for us to repent, yet many people fail to take advantage of this opportunity. Hashem comes to us, but we will not even open the door for Him.
Hashem not only gave us the month of Elul and the holiday of Rosh HaShana to repent, but he gave us the “Ten Days of Repentance” as well. Our passing up both of these opportunities understandably causes Hashem anguish, just as the father was anguished when his son did not come to meet him. On Yom Kippur, Hashem is knocking on the doors of our heart, greatly desiring to be let in. Hopefully, we, unlike the son of the story, will at least do this, so we will not have to regret our mistake later.