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Yom Kippur 5761-2000

“The Thrill of Coming Home”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

There are certain times in the Jewish calendar that are regarded as propitious times. For instance, the month of Nisan (which marks the exodus from Egypt) is considered a time of liberation and salvation. The month of Av is a time to be wary and circumspect, since the two temples were destroyed in that month. Candlelighting time on Friday evening is looked upon as a propitious time. The heavens are believed to be very receptive to the prayers of those who light Shabbat candles. Another particularly propitious time is under the chuppah, when G-d is considered to be extremely attentive to the prayers of bride and groom. And, according to rabbinic tradition, the heavens open up on Shavuot night, exactly at Jewish midnight, and G-d listens to the prayers of the petitioners with particular care. And, of course, the month of Elul and the early days of Tishrei are universally regarded as propitious times for Teshuvah, for repentance and return.

This year, on Sunday night, October 8th and Monday, October 9th, we will mark the observance of Yom Kippur, the propitious time for forgiveness. There is a well known dictum in tractate Sanhedrin 99a: “Ma’kom sheh’ba’alay t’shuva om’din, tza’deekim g’moorim ai’nam om’din.” This statement is often translated as: In the place where penitents stand, even the most righteous, the greatest tzadikim, cannot stand. The sages labor over this unusual statement, explaining that since the penitent has been tempted and has succumbed to sinfulness, the temptation for the penitent to commit the sin again is much greater than the tzadik who has never succumbed, and consequently has no such temptation.

I have heard an alternate explanation based on the following metaphor. Every human being is connected or tied to G-d by a tether, or a divine “umbilical cord.” When we sin grievously, this connection is severed and we are left bereft, unattached from the Creator. However, when we repent sincerely, the connection is re-established like a rope that is tied together again. However, now because of the knot, the connection is shorter. Consequently, when the rabbis say that the penitent is closer to G-d than the person who never sinned, it is because after repentance their connection is closer.

Although one of the major themes of Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur is the coronation of G-d as our King–a very remote and, at times, forbidding concept, we still refer to G-d in our High Holy Day prayers as Aveinu Malkainu, not only our king, but Our Father, Our King.

There is a most beautiful song entitled The Arrogant Prince, which is found on the record Wayward Ram, composed by Chaim Salenger. The song, based on a story taken from Rabbi Isaac Blazer’s classic book, “Kochav Ohr,” is used to demonstrate the meaning of the phrase “Our father, our King, hear our voice, pity and be compassionate to us,” found in the Aveinu Malkainu prayer of Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur.

There once was a King
And the King had a son
And the son was a clever but arrogant prince.
And the prince would often act in open disdain.
And the King wanted hard to ignore it,
But in vain was the burden he bore,
So they banished the prince from the palace,
Though still what he wore
Were his royal robes.

Well, the prince went in search
Of somewhere to begin,
And he came to a town,
But he felt out of place,
For the men were all miners,
And he a noble man
With his long royal robes and his soft royal face.
And they made him an honorary miner,
Digging down in some forsaken hole,
But the robes that were once much finer,
Turned black as the coal
And badly tattered.

So then, thought the prince,
“I am far too elite,
I must dress and behave
Like the common folk do.”
So he let grow his hair
And he drank and he cursed,
And became like the others, though possibly worse.
But the King had a change of heart one day,
And he longed for his wandering son.
So somehow they finally found him,
But strangely enough,
He’d forgotten who he was.

Well there stood the prince
In his black tattered robes,
Waiting out in the cold saying,
“Please let me in.”
And the guard took one look
At this strange ragged man,
And said, “I know the prince,
And buddy, you are not him.”
But the King heard the noise in the palace,
And the pleading and the cries of someone,
And he called to the guard, “Let him in,
Let him in, let him in;
That’s the voice of my son.”

Aveinu Malkenu
Our Father our King,
Please hear our voice,
Please let us in.
And though we are ragged,
And though we are wrong all along,
We know it is true,
Aveinu Malkenu.

Aveinu Malkenu,
Our Father our King,
Please hear our voice,
Please let us in.
And though we are strangers,
Deep in our voice is the cry
Of your wandering son.
Aveinu Malkenu,
Our Father our King.

The Kutzker Rebbe was once asked, Where do you find G-d?” He answered: “Vu m’lust em ah’rein,” Where you let Him in!

Let us allow G-d to enter our hearts and penetrate our very being, so that we may truly deserve forgiveness, so that we truly deserve peace in the land of Israel and in our lives. May we all merit to be inscribed for a wonderful year 5761, and be blessed with peace and with long, happy and healthy lives.

May you be blessed.