The Flute and the Jewish High Holidays



   
    September 1998          
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the Importance of Purity of Intent

By Simcha Rich

Near a small village in Eastern Europe some 200 years ago, a young Jewish boy was orphaned and was adopted by some warm hearted Gentiles. They treated him very well and gave him a job as a shepherd. The boy, who knew he was Jewish but had no understanding of what this meant, would go out each day with the flock and with his Armstrong flutes. As he would watch the flock, he would sit on a rock and play upon his flute.

As the Jewish Holidays neared he saw many people traveling on the road going to the nearby city of Berdichev. Each day more and more people would pass the normally seldom traveled road. Their presence aroused the boys curiosity and he asked the travelers what is the reason for their travels.

"We are on the way to Berdichev, to spend the high holy days with the tzaddik,(a pious and righteous man) Rabbi Levi Yitzchak," was the reply.

"High holy days?" the boy asked confused, "what is that?"

The men laughed, "It is the Jewish New Year, silly, all the world is being judged, and you are out here with your sheep? You belong in the synagogue!"

The boy was taken aback. He really did not understand what it was all about. As he sat out in his field watching the sheep graze peacefully in the green pasture, he began to think about what the men said. Perhaps I should go with them, he thought. But then again, he mused, I don't know how to pray. I only know that there is a G-d and that I am a Jew.

Then several days later, he saw the men going back in the opposite direction. He understood from this, that the high holidays had passed. How surprised was he the next week to see, the pilgrimage to Berdichev repeated.

"Excuse me," he asked of the men, "why are you going again to Berdichev? Did you not just have the high holidays?"

"Tomorrow is Yom Kippur," they explained, "we want to be with the tzaddik, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak in Berdichev to pray for a good year."

"I thought that you did that last week for Rosh Hashanah? Why do you have to go again?"

"Silly boy, don't you know that the judgement only begins on Rosh Hashanah. The judgement is suspended and sealed on Yom Kippur. If you had any brains, you would come into Berdichev and pray also for a good year. What kind of a year do you expect if you stay out here in the field?"

The words of the men had an impact on the young lad. As he sat out in the field playing his flute and watching the grazing flock, he felt a desire to go the synagogue in Berdichev. Alas, he did not know how to pray. He did not even know how to read Hebrew. What could he do? He just sat in the field playing a mournful tune on his flute.

The next day was Yom Kippur. The young boy told his adopted family that he wanted to go to Berdichev but he felt uneasy since he had never been inside a synagogue. They, being G-d fearing and good hearted people encouraged him to go. Not knowing what to do, the boy went into the woods with his flute to meditate and think.

Meanwhile, in the small town of Berdichev, in Rabbi Levi Yitzchak's synagogue, the congregation was deep in prayer. The holy tzaddik, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak, was not happy. He stood under his large talit, which covered his head and body, swaying in holy communion. He sensed that the prayers of the congregation were not making their way into the heavens. He tried, but in vain, to elevate the prayers.

At this time, the young boy, who had decided to come to Berdichev, entered the synagogue. He was totally amazed at the sight of the townsfolk engaged in prayer. Each person was beseeching G-d to give them a good year. In their devoted concentration, they did not notice the young lad enter the synagogue.

The young boy, not totally understanding the scene that he saw felt unhappy. Each person in the synagogue was able to commune with G-d but not him. He felt an urge to do something, but what could he do? He could not read Hebrew, he knew no prayer. With streams of tears, he decided to play a tune to G-d. It was his way of communicating. Unknown to him, playing music on this - the holiest day of the year - was forbidden. He pulled out his flute and in sincere concentration dedicated a soul searching tune to G-d. As he began his melody, the entire synagogue became astounded. The turned in anger to look at this terrible desecration of the holiday. As they shouted at him to stop this terrible desecration, the boy looked terrified. Rabbi Levi Yitzchak, came running to the boy smiling and joyous.

"Ah," he laughed, "know that this boy's innocent mistake has saved our prayers."

The congregation stood back in awe of the tzaddik's words. What had happened?

"This boy saved our prayers." Rabbi Levi Yitzchak continued, "I saw that our prayers were not ascending to the heavens. We were not able to pray with the purity and sincerity that are required to elevate our prayers into the heavenly courts. Suddenly, this boy with his unknowing error but pure heart and tears began to play his flute. His purity was added to our prayers and the doors of heaven opened up and our prayers were accepted.

"We owe our thanks to this young man." He finished his words and took the young boy with him to the front of the synagogue. "You shall sit with me, for you have saved our prayers."

We, too, can pray with true devotion. Let us just open ourselves up and let our inside rise to G-d, just this one time.

~~~~~~~

from the September 1998 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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