Let My People Know

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “The Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur.”


Once a certain rabbi was visited by the Baal Shem Tov, the great leader of the Hasidic movement, on the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur.

To his astonishment, the Baal Shem Tov kept singing the awesome prayer of repentance, Al Chet, literally “For the Sin,” in a clearly happy melody.

It was more like a marching tune than a recital of guilt and remorse, reflecting the liveliness of transgression more than the sorrow of contrition.

The rabbi could not help asking the meaning of such impious singing, and he received the reply:

“Anyone who is a genuinely devoted servant of the King will sing whenever he is carrying out the King’s orders, whether he comes as a victor in battle or whether he is cleaning out the filth from the homes.

Since the King’s instructions for this day are to do repentance, to clean out the filth, I sing as I would at any opportunity to do His will.”

The performance of any mitzvah is a joy, whether it be a likable task or a disagreeable one, a significant act or something relatively trivial.

All the mitzvot together form a symphonic whole, a single command, a collective summoning of our response.

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz