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Yom Kippur- The power of words

As we approach the holy day of Yom Kippur, we look forward to that first prayer, the haunting tune of קול נדרי. One might ask- why is the annulment of our vows so central and important that we begin with it on the holiest day of the year?

Perhaps it is coming to teach us the importance of keeping our word. We are going to stand in front of Hashem, of whom we said on Rosh Hashanah, "כי אתה אלוקים אמת, ודברך אמת וקיים לעד". Yom Kippur is a day of דביקות, attachment to Him. Therefore, we strive to emulate Him in all His ways, especially in the middah of אמת. Here we will share a few stories from our gedolim of the past and their scrupulousness in keeping their word, the midda that epitomizes ודברך אמת וקיים לעד

Eating Alone

The Ponovezher Rav, Rav Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman was careful not to eat with anyone else on the first night of Rosh Hashana, not even eat with his family. The Rav was a very personable individual; it was unusual for him not to be with others. Although many attributed this practice to the seriousness of the evening, when asked about this practice, he explained it differently.

“Many years ago, in the year 1929, I had to spend Rosh Hashanah in America. I had met a very wealthy man in Chicago and was hoping to secure a very significant donation from him for the yeshiva. Although the stock market had crashed, and the Great Depression had begun, this individual was one of the few who were not affected by the crash, and I was eager to meet with him.

“I decided to spend the Yamim Noraim in America. On the night of Rosh Hashana, I was approached by one of the baalabatim in shul. Although he was an affable person, he was not the type that I wanted to eat with on Rosh Hashana night. I did not want to make him feel bad, so I thanked him and told him on Rosh Hashanah night I eat alone. Ever since that night, I eat by myself on Rosh Hashanah.” Even after 40 years, the Rav kept his word.

Kabbalah Belev Havey Devorim

In the late 1960’s there was a vast influx of Jewish children to Eretz Yisrael from Sephardic communities in Africa and Asia. Their arrival was met with great excitement. In order for them to best maintain their heritage and minhagim, it was suggested that they attend their own Yeshivos and schools where they would be able to flourish and grow. A group of leading Roshei Yeshiva met to discuss the idea. Rav Lazer Yudel Finkel, the Rosh Yeshiva of the Mirrer Yeshiva, was one of the great supporters of the proposal for the young immigrants to have their own yeshiva. After the suggestion was made, one of the other rabbanim asked him how he could possibly commit to supporting another yeshiva when he was already responsible for supporting the Mir?! Rav Lazer Yudel answered that he really had no choice in the matter. Since he already made a promise, he would do it. The rav then asked him “To whom did you make this promise?” His response was legendary- “To myself! I promised myself moments ago that I would do it and a kabbalah belev is a also a promise that needs to be kept.” Rav Chatzkel Abramsky, who was present at the time, told this story when he delivered a hesped for Reb Lazer Yudel. He then added, “How many of us take our kabbalos that seriously?”

Never forgetting a Promise

Nachman Kahn grew up in Williamsburg, New York. One day, he was playing with a group of boys when the great Tzaddik Rav Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz walked by and offered candies to the group. Nachman was the last to come running over and by that time the Rosh Yeshiva had run out of candies. Nachman was disappointed however Rav Shraga Feivel told him “I promise I will make it up to you.” Nachman smiled, but a few weeks later, the tzaddik passed away and the story was all but forgotten.

Fast forward fifty years, and Reb Nachman, who was by now one of the community leaders of Detroit, was gravely ill, ר"ל. He had lapsed into a coma and the prognosis looked grim. After a few days he woke up. His first action, as soon as he was able, was to ask for a pen and paper and wrote a note. He asked that it be placed on the kever of Reb Shraga Feivel. His children and grandchildren asked for an explanation. The answer he gave was incredible. “As you know, I was extremely sick and nearly passed away. As I was preparing to leave this world Rav Shraga Feivel passed by. He walked over to me and kissed me on the forehead. He then told me “I told you I would make it up to you” Reb Nachman then recounted the story from his youth. The children listened intently, realizing the importance of keeping one’s word.

We see from these stories how important and serious it is to keep one’s word. As we are preparing for the Yom Hadin, let us make an extra effort to elevate ourselves by putting value into our words, thoughts, and actions.

(Stories adapted from A Touch of Purity by Rabbi Yechiel Spero)

Wishing you all a גמר חתימה טובה ושנה טובה ומתוקה!

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