Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Nitzavim
To dedicate this lesson

Heaven – or higher?!


Rabbi Stewart Weiss

Elul 24 5782
It was the first night of S’lichot & the rabbi was in a rush to get to the Bet Knesset on time. But just as he was about to leave the house, his wife asked him to help put the baby to bed. "Of course," he said, & softly whispered the words of Ashrei, the opening psalm of Selichot. "Karov Hashem l’chal kor’av; G-d is close to all who call out to Him!"

On his way to the shul, the rabbi bumped into one of his congregants, who said he urgently needed to talk about the dire difficulties he was having with one of his children. The rabbi nervously glanced at his watch, but stopped to hear the man’s tale & offer some wise advice. Thought the rabbi: "He who sits in glory directs His attention "lishmo’a el ha-rina v’el ha-t’fila," to listen to the song & the prayer, as the key piyut of S’lichot goes. "And is this man’s "song," sad as it may be, not worth listening to?!"

Meanwhile, at the synagogue, the assembled were buzzing about the rabbi’s absence. "How can he be late on such an important night, the "opening" of the High Holiday season?!" said one. "Maybe he’s in Heaven, having a chat with the Almighty!" said another. The Chazan carried on, hoping nothing serious had occurred.

As the rabbi now hurriedly ran to the service, he passed an elderly lady struggling with her packages, one of which had fallen to the ground. "Should I stop to help her?" he said to himself. "But I’m so late already!" Shrugging his shoulders, he picked up the fallen package & walked the woman to her nearby house. On the way, he recited: "Please, G-d; do not cast us out in our old age;" echoing the Sh’ma Koleynu prayer, "when our strength falters, do not forsake us!"

Now hopelessly late, the rabbi hoped that he would still be able to get to shul before the service was over, & that he would have a moment to offer words of inspiration to the community, words that would help to secure G-d’s positive response on Rosh Hashana & Yom Kippur.

"Hashem, do it for Your glory;" he prayed as he ran."Do it for Your honor; Your righteousness; do it for Your great kindness, for Your love, for the great ones who sacrificed everything for You. Do it - if not for me - then for You, so Your name will be sanctified & You will save us."

The rabbi entered the sanctuary just as the Chazan was saying the final Kaddish. Huffing & puffing, he tried to explain why he had come so late, & then he begged the crowd to be dan l’kaf z’chut, to give him the benefit of the doubt, just as they, too, would soon request the same of Hashem.

"I think the rabbi was late because he was in Heaven," repeated a man. "Perhaps even higher," smiled his friend.
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