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The Tenth Jew

The Tenth Jew


Torrents of rain beat down on his face, but the tempest did not prevent chassidic master Rabbi Leib Sarah’s from reaching the village. It was only several hours before the beginning of Yom Kippur. He was some distance from his intended destination, but he was relieved to learn that in this village, too, there would be a minyan (quorum of ten) with which to pray—eight local villagers would be joined by two men who lived in the nearby forest.

Rabbi Leib immersed himself, in preparation for the holy day, in the purifying waters of a river which ran by the village; ate the meal which precedes the fast; and hastened to be the first in the little wooden synagogue. There he settled down to recite the various private devotions with which he was accustomed to inaugurate the Day of Atonement.

For a few long, long moments they stood in silence face to face, the tzaddik and the apostate . . . One by one, the eight local villagers arrived in time to hear the words of Kol Nidrei. Together with Rabbi Leib, there were now nine. But there was no minyan, for it transpired that the two Jewish foresters had been imprisoned on some malicious libel.

“Perhaps we could find just one more Jew living around these parts?” asked Rabbi Leib.

“No,” the villagers all assured him, “there’s only us.”

“Perhaps,” he persisted, “there lives here some Jew who converted out of the faith of his fathers?”

The villagers were shocked to hear such an odd question from the stranger. They looked upon him quizzically.

“The doors of repentance are not locked even in the face of an apostate,” Rabbi Leib continued. “I have heard from my teachers that even when one pokes about in the ashes, one can light upon a spark of fire . . .”

One of the villagers now spoke up.

“There is one apostate here,” he ventured. “He is our paritz, the squire who owns this whole village. But he has been sunk in sin for forty years now. You see, the gentile daughter of the previous squire fell in love with him. So her father promised him that if he converted and married the girl, he would make him his sole heir. He didn’t withstand the temptation, so he did exactly that . . . They had no children, and his wife died many years ago; he now lives alone in his great big house. He is a cruel master, and deals especially harshly with the Jews on his land.”

“Show me his mansion,” said Rabbi Leib.

He removed his tallit in a flash, and ran as fast as he could in the direction of the mansion, with his white skullcap on his head and his white kittel billowing in the wind. He knocked on the heavy door, opened it without waiting for a response, and found himself confronting the squire. For a few long, long moments they stood in silence face to face, the tzaddik and the apostate. The latter’s first thought was to summon one of his henchmen to seize the uninvited intruder and hurl him into the dungeon in the backyard. But the luminous countenance and the penetrating eyes of the tzaddik softened his heart.

“My name is Leib Sarah’s,” began the visitor. “It was my privilege to know Rabbi Israel, the Baal Shem Tov, who was admired also by the gentile noblemen. From his mouth I once heard that every Jew should utter the sort of prayer that was first said by King David: ‘Save me, O L‑rd, from blood-guilt.’ But the word used for ‘blood’ (damim) can also be translated as ‘money.’ So my teacher expounded the verse as follows: ‘Save me, so that I should never regard money as my L‑rd . . .’

“Now my mother, whose name was Sarah, was a holy woman. One day the son of one of the local gentry took it into his head to marry her, and promised her wealth and status if she would agree, but she sanctified the name of Israel. In order to save herself from that villain, she quickly got married to an old Jewish pauper who was a schoolteacher. You did not have the good fortune to withstand the test, and for silver and gold you were willing to betray your faith. Realize, though, that there is nothing that can stand in the way of repentance. Moreover, there are those who in one hour earn their portion in the World to Come. Now is that hour! Today is the eve of Yom Kippur. The sun will soon set. The Jews who live in your village are short one man to make up a minyan. Come along now with me, and be the tenth man. For the Torah tells us: ‘The tenth shall be holy unto G‑d.’”

“By the sanction of the Almighty, and by the sanction of the congregation, we declare it permissible to pray together with those who have sinned . . .” The squire paled at the words spoken by this white-clothed man with the singular face. And meanwhile, down the road, the eight local villagers waited in shul, huddled together in frozen dread. Who could tell what calamity this odd stranger was about to bring down upon their heads?

The door burst open, and in rushed Rabbi Leib, followed closely by the paritz. The latter’s gaze was downcast, and his eyelashes were heavy with tears. At a sign from Rabbi Leib, one of the villagers handed the apostate a tallit. He enveloped himself in it, covering his head and face entirely. Rabbi Leib now stepped forward to the Holy Ark, and took out two scrolls of the Torah. One he gave to the oldest villager present, and the other—to the paritz. Between them at the bimah stood Rabbi Leib, and he began to solemnly chant the traditional tune for the opening lines of the Kol Nidrei prayer: “By the sanction of the Almighty, and by the sanction of the congregation, . . . we declare it permissible to pray together with those who have sinned . . .”

A deep sigh broke forth from the depths of the broken man’s heart. No man there could stand unmoved, and they all wept with him. Throughout all the prayers of the evening, and from dawn of the next day right until nightfall, the paritz stood in prayer, humbled and contrite. And as his sobs shook his whole body as he recited the confession, the other nine shuddered with him.

At the climax of the Ne’ilah service, when the congregation was about to utter together the words “Shema Yisrael,” the paritz leaned forward until his head was deep inside the Holy Ark, embraced the Torah scrolls that stood there, and in a mighty voice that petrified those present, cried out: “Hear, O Israel, the L‑rd our G‑d, the L‑rd is One!” He then stood up straight, and began to declare with all his might: “The L‑rd is G‑d!” With each repetition his voice grew louder. Finally, as he cried it out for the seventh time, his soul flew from his body.

That same night they brought the remains of the paritz to burial in the nearby town. Rabbi Leib himself took part in the purification and preparation of the body for burial, and for the rest of his life observed the yahrzeit of this penitent every Yom Kippur by saying kaddish for the elevation of his soul.

Biographical note:
Rabbi Leib Sarah’s (1730–1796) lived a solitary life of wandering, in which he devoted himself to the great mitzvah of redeeming Jewish captives. He was held in great esteem by the Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chassidic movement.

Translated-adapted by Rabbi Yerachmiel Tilles based on Sippurei Chassidim by Rabbi S. Y. Zevin and other oral sources. Rabbi Tilles is co-founder of Ascent of Safed, and editor of Ascent Quarterly and the Ascent and Kabbalah Online websites.
Image: Detail from a work by chassidic artist Shoshannah Brombacher. To view or purchase Ms Brombacher's art, click here
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Roz Campbell October 18, 2015

Saved just in time I admire that Rabbi going to a man who no one would have gone to & ask to come to any function. But Rabbi Leib Sarah went to him & that poor man was not only saved but had come back to the fold, which he probably wanted to do years back. God knew this & wanted someone to go to him & picked the right man to do this. Love it. Reply

Anonymous November 24, 2014

Wow, Boruch Hashem! Reply

Loren Maine December 3, 2012

L Roche please feel free to do so Reply

Stan Canada December 3, 2012

Always blessing By the sanction of the Almighty, and by the sanction of the congregation, . . . we declare it permissible to pray together with those who have sinned . . . Reply

LRoche NY November 15, 2012

The Gds divide...the Divine unites. Rabbi Freeman...just shows how little we truly are in control of the life we live. The bigger picture is far nicer than the distorted close-ups we are forced to live. Crossing bounderies is all that counts. Loren, lovely to share such a beautiful thought...the flower on the boot. Can I borrow that? Todah. Plse view with google chrome, Enjoy Reply

Anonymous Far Rockaway, NY April 16, 2012

Don't Count Us, Please One Jewish woman is worth ten Jewish men. Absolutely!

Those with a Y chromosome need to find nine others so afflicted to have their prayers go directly to G-d.

Not us favored Double-Xs. We have an immediate connection to heaven. Our prayers fly straight up to the Divine. One Jewish woman's tears can break through a hundred walls and cancel a thousand evil decrees.

And you want to lower us from our exalted, lofty plane by demanding we go to shul and get counted in a minyan?

Read the ending of the Book of Ruth. All of the women told Naomi that Ruth was better to her than seven sons would have been.

Or read in the Book of Samuel about the righteous Hannah, whose silent heartfelt prayer became the very model of genuine prayer.

Our job of creating the Jewish future is too important. Men, given lesser jobs based on their lower level of Binah (understanding), need to pray at set times and set places with nine others. We women don't need to do that. Reply

Anonymous Melbourne, Australia January 17, 2012

Re: Pity they didn't count the woman It is a shame that you said that the villagers didnt count the woman as Jews. This is incorrect as woman are not just able to be part of a minyan halachically, but chas veshalom that someone should say that they are not Jews. Reply

Ralph Calgary, Ab October 8, 2011

An excellent story brings us hope! I read this story with reverence. This is a story that should be told more often, not just at Yom Kippur!! As I pray at home, today, this story warms my heart again. Reply

Hanoch Ringo Imphal, India October 7, 2011

Very touching - soul-stirring This is a real eye-opener especially for Jews who have forsaken their faith one way or the other. Khazak hu barukh! Reply

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman October 6, 2011

Re: Pity they didn't count the women ...and the squire would never have returned home. Reply

Rachel Ma''aleh Adumim, Israel October 4, 2011

Pity they didn't count the women If the village had counted the women as Jews, they wouldn't have had any problem making the minyan. Reply

Loren Sabattus, Maine, USA September 18, 2010

What this story is telling us True forgiveness is the essence a flower leaves on the heel of the boot that crushes it. Reply

Anonymous Nyc April 26, 2017
in response to Loren:

Never let this be true Reply

Amy rio rancho February 3, 2010

the "Tenth Jew" This is a beautiful story but still makes me sad as he was not "inscribed in the Book of Life" I guess....Maybe his level of Teshuva was such a high jump that it killed him.but rewarded in the world to come Reply

Stan Gould Williamsport, PA/USA September 27, 2009

The Tenth Jew While reading "The Tenth Jew," I suddenly started to cry. Reply

Tyler April 30, 2009

kool This is an awesome story!! Reply

Anonymous October 1, 2006

wow now that was an awesome and inspirational story!
if only we would have such kavana (concentration and focus) when we daven, IYH this yom kippur becuase of this story i will have a lot more meaning in my davening! Reply

Dan Waldron September 30, 2006

Tenth Jew (MINYAN) Powerful story.
It is God who forgives, but we as brothers must forgive each other also, this story brings out the power of forgiveness between men, not just man who sins against God. Truly a needed lesson for us all.
Jews will have to forgive non-jews for their terrible acts of persecution. Non-Jews must also learn to do the same, and to obstain from persecuting JEWS. Many Christians in spite of their terrible history know that they must never persecute Jews. They are repentive for what has happened in history and even the past 50 years. Most Evangelical Christians support the Nation of Israel. However it is alarming to see how many Main-line Protestants(Lutheran, Episcopal, Methodist and Presbyterian) do not support the Nation of Israel. Catholics are divided as well as Orthodox. Nevertheless many Christians from the latter groups mentioned do support Israel completely, and hate what the PLO and Hezbollah are doing to Israel on a daily basis. Reply

Anonymous September 28, 2006

What happened to the 2 Jews who should have made up the minyan? Did the tzadik redeem them? Excellent story. Reply

Jane Tavlin Metairie, LA September 27, 2006

The Tenth Jew After reading this story, I realize that no matter how far one has drifted, there is hope! Reply

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