We just concluded Yom Kippur, which ends the ten days of repentance, the days of awe.
On Rosh Hashanah we crowned G-d as king of creation, then we continued to reflect on correcting our past and resolving for a better future, culminating with a day of intimacy with G-d.
There’s a story told of a Rabbi who stumbled upon a village of Kantonists, they were young Jews who were kidnaped as children by the Czar of Russia, conscripted to the army for 25 years, the purpose of this terrible ordeal was to get these boys to forget about their Judaism, and to become good Christians.
This dreadful experience only reinforced their commitment to Judaism, and although these young men were physically tortured and torn away from their families and any chance of Jewish education, these young men remained loyal to their people.
Broken in body and spirit, after 25 years of torture, the Kantonists couldn’t adjust back to normal civil society, so they formed their own villages where they lived together and practiced the little Judaism that they knew, and they formed some resemblance to normal life as much as possible under the circumstances.
This Rabbi, as he came to the village, he was greeted with excitement by the villagers, you are the tenth man to complete a quorum, a Minyan, for the holiday of Yom Kippur.
Oh Rabbi, would you please join us for Yom Kippur? Would you please lead us in prayer on Yom Kippur? they asked with excitement, we are ignorant, you will do the job.
With one condition, they added, you lead all the prayers, but one of us will lead the Neila prayer.
Agreed, said the Rabbi, and so they started the Yom Kippur service.
When the time for Neila approached, the Rabbi left the lectern, and handed it off to the Kantonists.
As the chosen Kantonist came to the lectern, he walked over to the opened holy ark and started unbuttoning his shirt.
In horror, the Rabbi was about to jump and tell the man that exposing the naked flesh in front of the ark was inappropriate.
But then to his double horror, he noticed a beaten up wounded whipped chest and back of this man full of lesions and scrapes, remnants of 25 years of torture and whipping that he received, gifts of the Czar in the army.
Then the man turned to G-d; dear G-d, we are here to pray, no, we’re not praying for our families, because we have none, we are not praying for comforting days, because after what we suffered and survived, there is nothing that will comfort us, but what we are asking of You, dear G-d, look at our wounds, take heed of our self-sacrifice, pay attention to our dedication to You and our people, and take to heart.
We ask You, do it for us, do it for You, please please, send us Moshiach, it’s time that You end this miserable suffering for us and all the Jews who are in exile suffering for over 17 centuries, look at our backs that we gave for You, the time has come.
When the Rabbi heard this prayer, he was overcome with emotions, one of awe and inspiration admiring the greatness of these Jews, and he was pleased to have one of them lead the Neila prayer.
He was also overcome with joy, he saw that the Jewish spirit cannot and will not be broken ever and ever, regardless of any suffering and persecution, a Jew is a Jew is a Jew, and will forever be a Jew.
With this he went out with a dance of joy, how special and how lucky are we to feel the closeness of G-d and the Jewish people.
The next two weeks we will rejoice in זמן שמחתנו = Zman Simchaseinu, the time of our rejoicing, ours = plural, it is a double rejoicing, G-d rejoices with His people, and we rejoice with G-d.
We will go to the Sukkah, we will shake the Lulav, we will dance in the streets, and finally we will dance with the Torah, this is a celebration of confidence in our victory to be sealed in the book of life, and a celebration knowing that G-d loves us.
And G-d will rejoice with us, knowing that regardless of circumstances we are always His, and for that He will give us a Sweet and Happy New Year.
Stock up on all the needs for a jampacked whirlwind of partying and dancing, G-d is dancing with us, take out those dancing shoes and dance and dance and dance.
Have a L’Chaim of a Shabbos,
Rabbi Yosef Katzman