Rabbinic Reflections: Issue 129

September 30, 2022 (6 Tishrey 5783)

L’eila U’l’eila

Dear Holy Friends,

As we head into the holiest day of the year, I want to thank all of you for joining us, earlier this week, to celebrate Rosh Hashanah. Please join us this Shabbat, in the sanctuary at 10:30am (the services will also be available over our regular zoom prayer link) and again on Tuesday evening for Kol Nidre and Wednesday for Yom Kippur services.

For those of you attentive to the holiday liturgy, you will notice that, as we pray during these Ten Days of Repentance, we add the expression of L’eila U’l’eila to all of our Kaddishes. The term is a petition to ask our prayers to “ascend higher and even higher” to heaven as we aspire to be inscribed in the Book of Life for 5783.

Allow me to share with you the following well-known Chassidic story.

The days of repentance were considered the most holy time of the year for a small shtetl community in the town of Mulch, in the province of Grodna. Each morning, the devout of the community arose particularly early to recite additional Selichot prayers asking HaShem for forgiveness and for all to be inscribed for a healthy New Year.

The community was shocked, however, that each morning when the congregation communed to daven, their Rebbe was nowhere to be found.

The surprised parishioners heard that the reason he was missing services early in the morning was because he was already in the heavens connecting with God, singing with the angels, and petitioning for the well-being of the Jewish people.

One Jew, a sceptic, laughed at this suggestion and decided to spy on the Rebbe late at night. The sceptic decided to hide under the Rebbe’s bed and see where he was going in the early morning.

Having successfully snuck into the Rebbe’s home, the sceptic heard the leader arise hours before sunrise. The Rebbe put on peasant’s clothing, took an ax, and headed into the forest, often changing directions and turning around, so as to make sure that he was not being followed.

After an hour march into the woods, the sceptic witnessed the Rebbe stop and begin chopping wood (certainly not a task reserved for a Talmid Chacham). After completing his task, the Rebbe placed the wood in his backpack and travelled deeper into the woods, before coming to the residence of an an impoverished widow, who had just given birth to her fifth child.

The Rebbe said to the widow that he had wood for sale. The widow remarked, “I certainly do not have payment.” The Rebbe suggested that she take the wood and worry about paying him next year. Since, no task was beneath this great Torah scholar, he started a blazing fire in her fireplace, unpacked the food and clothes that he had packed into his sack before leaving home. The Rebbe then lovingly fed the children and left the woman with many kind, caring, and uplifting words. Crying on his shoulder, the widow thanked him for his kindness.

Returning to the village the sceptic went to shul and again heard the theory that the Rebbe was not in shul because he was with the angels and God in heaven. Stroking his beard, the sceptic said, “L’eila U’l’eila, I actually think the Rebbe went even higher.”

True goodness and giving often involves nurturing and caring in little ways that go unseen. What is true goodness? What is true giving? Judaism gently teaches us through the stories of the scroll that true goodness is not carried out always in a blaze of glory. True goodness and giving often involves nurturing and caring in little ways that goes unseen.

It is through this goodness and giving that we touch the divine, ascending even higher than heaven.

As we enter Shabbat and the New Year, may we have the merit to do for others, our families, and our community, in both small and large ways, such as to perfect God’s vision for a world of peace and fulfillment.

Shabbat Shalom and wishes for a Shanah Tova U’Metukah,

Rabbi Eric Wasser, EdD, Hon.DM
Tel: 201-562-5277

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