The Missing Rabbi

As Yom Kippur approaches, I want to share a story I have told many times over the years. Hopefully it reminds us of what our priorities should be.

It was the Eve of Yom Kippur.  The entire congregation packed the sanctuary.  All awaited the beginning of worship on the holiest night of the year,.  The Cantor took his place on the bimah, ready to stir the souls of the congregation with the sounds of the magnificent Kol Nidre prayer.

There was only one problem.  The Rabbi was missing.  No one had seen him arrive at the synagogue.  No one knew where he was.  The president and vice-president of the congregation went up to the women’s section of the sanctuary.  There, the rabbi’s wife sat in her accustomed seat.  “Where is your husband, our Rabbi?  They asked anxiously.

“I do not know,” she replied. “He left home at least an hour ago.  I thought he was on his way to the synagogue to prepare for the service.”

Hastily, the leaders of the congregation organized a search party.  They fanned out through the surrounding neighborhoods looking for their beloved Rabbi.  Not long thereafter, the congregation’s president came to a small house.  The door was open, so he walked in.  There he saw the rabbi holding a small child, who was sleeping peacefully in his arms.

“Sshh,” said the Rabbi when he saw his congregant.  “Don’t wake the baby!”

“But, Rabbi,” the President exclaimed.  “What are you doing here?  The whole congregation has been waiting for some time.  It is the Day of Atonement.  It is time for Kol Nidre to begin.”

“I know,” the Rabbi answered.  “I was on my way to synagogue.  I would have arrived in plenty of time, but I passed this house, and I heard the baby crying.  How could I simply leave him here?”

Quickly, the President ran to the synagogue and found the baby’s mother.  “He sleeps so soundly” she replied to his query.  “I thought I could come to the service and be home before he woke up.”  Then the mother hurried home to her child.  The Rabbi hurried to his waiting congregation to lead them in worship on the holiest day of the year.

(I first told this story when I was chosen by lottery to speak at my BHL graduation ceremony in Los Angeles in 1970.I have adapted it from Migdal David, by David Solomon ben Samuel of Lelov (1873). I found it in S.Y. Agnon, The Days of Awe, (New York, Schocken Books, 1965), p. 227.)

9 thoughts on “The Missing Rabbi

  1. I love this story ❤ Wishing you and Vicki a healthy and peaceful new year 😊 Love, Bernie and Lynda Sent from my T-Mobile 4G LTE Device


  2. Thank you, Ms.Schapira, for reading my retelling of this wonderful story.
    I too once thought it was Rabbi Israel Salanter. But if you look at the source I cite for the story, Agnon, Days of Awe, Page 227, it will become clear that Chabad confused this story with one in which Rabbi Salanter led a stray animal home in the eve of Yom Kippur.
    The rabbi about whom this story is written is Rabbi David of Lelov.


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