RABBI LEVI YITZHAK'S CANTOR
Courtesy: Rabbi David Eliezrie
The famed Chassidic master Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev was in the need of a Chazzan, a cantor to lead the High Holiday services. When this became known, many flocked to Berdichev to audition. Leading the services in the Shul of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak would seal a cantor’s reputation for life. Reb Levi Yitzchak was famous throughout the Jewish world of Eastern Europe as one of the spiritual giants. People still make pilgrimages to his grave in Berdichev two centuries after his passing. Being the chazzan in his synagogue, where thousands came from throughout the country to pray, was like a receiving an invitation to sing in the White House in modern times.
Each candidate was interviewed by the saintly rabbi. Reb Levi Yitzchak was not so concerned with the cantorial skills. More important to him were the spiritual qualities of the potential cantor. He was to represent the whole community in its prayers. One candidate told Reb Levi Yitzchak he had spent months studying the mystical teachings that touch in the inner meanings of the holiday. Another tried to impress the rabbi with his voice that was filed with emotion. Finally a simple villager from a nearby town stood before the great rabbi. “How will you lead the service?” he was asked. The man responded, “ I will pray to G-d that my daughters find matches.” He had two daughters who were getting older, and he was concerned that they both set up their own families.
“Gamacked (Finished),” said Reb Levi Yitzchak. “You will be cantor for the High Holidays.” The long line of those aspiring candidates was befuddled. Each had long resumes, with years of experience leading services in many congregations. Here a simple villager had taken the prize job. How can it be, they asked? Reb Levi Yitzchak explained, “his prayer is the from the depths of his heart. He is not looking to impress anyone; he is asking G-d in a pure way for his needs for the coming year.”
Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur provide a time for spiritual renewal -- a time when we stand before G-d and reach into our souls asking Him for our needs for a New Year and declaring Him the king. The Midrash, the treasure house of rabbinical teachings, tells us the reason for Rosh Hashanah. It is on this day that the first human, Adam, was created, Rosh Hashanah is the sixth day of creation. The message is important. G-d created a world that was imperfect. It needed Tikkun, spiritual rectification. Man’s destiny is to uplift the world and repair it. Every year on the anniversary of the creation of man, it is time to reassess that progress. Are we doing our job? The relationship between the Creator and the Created is renewed. We turn to G-d, accepting again his Kingship and ask him to shower us with blessing for the New Year.
The Talmud says, “there is no King without a nation.” In a strange way G-d also needs us. For it is through the observance and his commandments and the study of His Torah by the Jewish people that we bring down into the world, as the Kabblah explains, the “kingship of G-d.” Tikkun Olam literally means “rectifying or correcting the world.” It means filling the world with the Divine, with holiness. One of the ways is to treat others with care and compassion. This kindness must be animated by the core idea of infusing holiness into the world. The medium for that is the fulfilling of Divine commands, such as Shabbat, Kashrut, and the study of Torah. Some people have replaced the core mission with one of political and social activism, forgetting the Divine aspect . G-d commands us to care for others, and G-d commands us to observe his Mitzvoth. The two are intrinsically linked.
The High Holy Days are the time when we as Jews sear into our consciousness the Kingship of Hashem (G-d). What is important is not the rabbis’ speeches or the cantors’ melodies. It is our intent, as it is called Kavanah, during prayer. It’s the simple prayer of the villager asking Hashem for a good match for his daughters. It is our prayer, recognizing that G-d sustains us with his blessings for the New Year.
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