FROM THE HEART
Torrents of rain beat down on his face, but the tempest did not prevent
chassidic master Rabbi Leib Sarah's from reaching the village. It
was only several hours before the beginning of Yom Kippur. He was
some distance from his intended destination, but he was relieved to
learn that in this village too there would be a minyan (quorum of
ten) with which to pray--eight local villagers would be joined by
two men who lived in the nearby forest.
Rabbi Leib immersed himself in the purifying waters of a river which
ran by the village in preparation for the holy day, ate the meal which
precedes the fast, and hastened to be the first in the little wooden
synagogue. There he settled down to recite the various private devotions
with which he was accustomed to inaugurate the Day of Atonement.
For a few long, long moments they stood in silence face to face,
the tzaddik and the apostate... One by one the eight local villagers
arrived in time to hear the words of Kol Nidrei. Together with Rabbi
Leib there were now nine. But there was no minyan, for it transpired
that the two Jewish foresters had been imprisoned on some malicious
"Perhaps we could find just one more Jew living around these
parts?" asked Rabbi Leib.
"No." the villagers all assured him, "there's only
"Perhaps," he persisted, "there lives here some Jew
who converted out of the faith of his fathers?"
The villagers were shocked to hear such an odd question from the
stranger. They looked upon him quizzically.
"The doors of repentance are not locked even in the face of
an apostate," Rabbi Leib continued. "I have heard from my
teachers that even when one poles about in the ashes one can light
upon a spark of fire..."
One of the villagers now spoke up.
"There is one apostate here," he ventured. "He is
our paritz, the squire who owns this whole village. But he has been
sunk in sin for forty years now. You see, the gentile daughter of
the previous squire fell in love with him. So her father promised
him that if he converted and married the girl, he would make him his
sole heir. He didn't withstand the temptation, so he did exactly that....
They had no children, and his wife died many years ago; he now lives
alone in his great big house. He is a cruel master, and deals especially
harshly with the Jews on his land."
"Show me his mansion," said Rabbi Leib.
He removed his tallit in a flash, and ran as fast as he could in
the direction of the mansion, with his white skullcap on his head
and his white kittel billowing in the wind. He knocked on the heavy
door, opened it without waiting for a response, and found himself
confronting the squire. For a few long, long moments they stood in
silence face to face, the tzaddik and the apostate. The latter's first
thought was to summon one of his henchmen to seize the uninvited intruder
and hurl him into the dungeon in the back yard. But the luminous countenance
and the penetrating eyes of the tzaddik softened his heart.
"My name is Leib Sarah's," began the visitor. "It
was my privilege to know Rabbi Israel, the Baal Shem Tov, who was
admired also by the gentile noblemen. From his mouth I once heard
that every Jew should utter the sort of prayer that was first said
by King David: 'Save me, O Lord, from blood-guilt.' But the word used
for 'blood' (damim) can also be translated as 'money.' So my teacher
expounded the verse as follows: 'Save me, so that I should never regard
money as my Lord...'
"Now my mother, whose name was Sarah, was a holy woman. One
day the son of one of the local gentry took it into his head to marry
her, and promised her wealth and status if she would agree, but she
sanctified the name of Israel. In order to save herself from that
villain she quickly got married to an old Jewish pauper who was a
schoolteacher. You did not have the good fortune to withstand the
test, and for silver and gold you were willing to betray your faith.
Realize, though, that there is nothing that can stand in the way of
repentance. Moreover, there are those who in one hour earn their portion
in the world to Come. Now is that hour! Today is the eve of Yom Kippur.
The sun will soon set. The Jews who live in your village are short
one man to make up a minyan. Come along now with me, and be the tenth
man. For the Torah tells us: 'The tenth shall be holy unto G-d.'"
"By the sanction of the Almighty, and by the sanction of the
congregation, we declare it permissible to pray together with those
who have sinned..." The squire paled at the words spoken by this
white-clothed man with the singular face. And meanwhile, down the
road, the eight local villagers waited in shul, huddled together in
frozen dread. Who could tell what calamity this odd stranger was about
to bring down upon their heads?
The door burst open, and in rushed Rabbi Leib, followed closely by
the paritz. The latter's gaze was downcast, and his eyelashes were
heavy with tears. At a sign from Rabbi Leib, one of the villagers
handed the apostate a tallit. He enveloped himself in it, covering
his head and face entirely. Rabbi Leib now stepped forward to the
Holy Ark, and took out two scrolls of the Torah. One he gave to the
oldest villager present, and the other--to the paritz. Between them
at the bimah stood Rabbi Leib, and he began to solemnly chant the
traditional tune for the opening lines of the Kol Nidrei prayer: "By
the sanction of the Almighty, and by the sanction of the congregation,
...we declare it permissible to pray together with those who have
A deep sigh broke forth from the depths of the broken man's heart.
No man there could stand unmoved, and they all wept with him. Throughout
all the prayers of the evening, and from dawn of the next day right
until nightfall, the paritz stood in prayer, humbled and contrite.
And as his sobs shook his whole body as he recited the confession,
the other nine shuddered with him.
At the climax of the Neilah service, when the congregation was about
to utter together the words Shema Yisrael, the paritz leaned forward
until his head was deep inside the Holy Ark, embraced the Torah Scrolls
that stood there, and in a mighty voice that petrified those present
cried out: "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our G-d, the Lord is One!"
He then stood up straight, and began to declare with all his might:
"The Lord is G-d!" With each repetition his voice grew louder.
Finally, as he cried it out for the seventh time, his soul flew from
That same night they brought the remains of the paritz to burial
in the nearby town. Rabbi Leib himself took part in the purification
and preparation of the body for burial, and for the rest of his life
observed the yahrzeit of this penitent every Yom Kippur by saying
kaddish for the elevation of his soul.
[Adapted by Yrachmiel Tilles from the rendition in A Treasury
of Chassidic Tales - Festivals (Artscroll), as translated by the
incomparable Uri Kaploun.]
Rabbi Leib Sarahs (17 Tammuz 1730 - 4 Adar B 1796) lived a solitary
life of wandering, in which he devoted himself to the great mitzvah
of "redeeming Jewish captives." He was held in great esteem
by the Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chassidic movement. The Lubavitcher
Rebbe stated the possibility that Rabbi Leib Sarahs and Rabbi Leib,
the Shpoler Zeide, are the same person.