From Awe to Awesome Love

It is brought down that the month of Elul, Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur are designated for doing Teshuva. A Jew is inspired and cajoled into teshuva as he comtemplates the awesomeness of the Creator and how we are obligated to Him. It is a teshuva based on fear and awe.

When Sukkos, the season of our rejoicing comes, the process of teshuva takes a new course. In this Festive time the teshuva is based on love.

In the poem "Yedid Nefesh" which is sung on Shabbos at night and at the third meal (many Chassidim also recite it everyday as a prelude to the morning prayers), we find an allusion to this idea.

The second verse says, "Glorious, resplendent One, Light of the world, my soul is lovesick for you; I beseech you, Oh G-d, pray heal it by showing it the sweetness of your splendor. At that moment it (the soul) will be strengthened and healed and will experience everlasting joy".

The Belzer Rav, R' Aharon zt"l commented, that the operative factor here is, that at the moment when one has an exalted spiritual experience, he must hold fast to the essence of it and learn from it. The result is everlasting joy. That is what is expressed here. "I beseech you, Oh G-d, pray heal it by showing it the sweetness of your splendor". This is the moment when G-d reveals Himself in a special way to a person. If he grabs hold of the moment and internalizes its essence, then, "At that moment it (the soul) will be strengthened and healed and will experience everlasting joy". If one lets it go, and relates to the moment as just another "high", then the experience is squandered.

I have heard the above idea applied to Yom Kippur. If one grabs hold of the spiritual awakening, inspiration and resolve experienced on Yom Kippur and brings it into the following days, then he will certainly fully experience the joy of the Sukkos season. This is the transition from Teshuva with awe to Teshuva with love.

Once, on the eve of Yom Kippur, a young Torah scholar (avrech) arrived in the town of Yaroslav. It was just before the start of Kol Nidre and suddenly the young avrech appeared in the Shul. Without any words or introductions he went up to the reader's stand and began to chant the Kol Nidre prayer in frightening and hauntingly beautiful melody. Not one of the members present in the Shul could identify the stranger or explain his behavior, but since he was clearly a person of considerable spiritual stature, they allowed him to continue uninterrupted.

After the Maariv prayer the avrech chanted all of the Shirei Yichud (Songs of Unity) and then began to recite Tehillim (Psalms) all the while standing. When the members of the shul arrived back in the morning, they found the arech still standing on his feet absorbed in prayer. As soon as a minyan assembled he began with Adon Olam and continued to lead Shacharis prayer. He himself read from the Torah and chanted the Haftorah. He said Yizhkor and then began the arduous Mussaf prayer. At this point the members were suspicious if he was indeed a mortal human being or some kind of angel that had descended on this awesome day; for his voice and his stamina were other worldly. Then there were times when the avrech was silent and the congregation sang. They themselves reached such heights of exultation that they were sure that he was indeed a mortal and they were his equals. But as the Neilah prayer drew to a close, the congregation, thoroughly swept up by his singing and roaring as he stormed the gates of prayer to bring in Klal Yisrael in Teshuva, felt certain that he could indeed be only an angel.

One of those present that special Yom Kippur, was R' Yaakov Meshullam Orenstein, the author of the work Yeshuos Yaacov. It from him that we know of this whole story. R' Yaacov Meshullam decided to follow the young man after the completion of the services. He went after him to his lodgings to see if he would eat now or not. He saw how he heard the havdalah ceremony from others and then asked his host for some kvickenish (a tasty morsel) to refresh his soul since he was hungry.

They immediately brought him some cake and fruit, but he thundered, "No this is not what I need, bring me a volume of (the Talmudic) tractate Sukkah. With that he retired to his room claiming that he wanted to rest. R' Yaacov Meshullam peeked in the key hole and saw that he opened up his book and started to learn with extraordinary exuberance, not pausing for a minute. R' Yaacov Meshullam could already not stay awake himself, so he left to break his fast and to rest. In the early morning he returned to find that the avrech was still learning and about to complete the final page of the tractate. Only after that did he proffer a sheepish request for a glass of coffee and a bit of cake.

This young avrech was none other than R' Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev, the Kedushas Levi. He is the same R' Levi Yitzchok whose son writes about him in the introduction to his own book Keser Torah, that ". . . he raised up thousands upon thousands of disciples . . . and ignited within them a passion for learning Torah and serving the Creator with love. His own divine service was such that even the angels above were envious of him!"