It was Yom Kippur Eve. A breathless hush took hold of the congregation as all eyes turned upon the figure of their revered "Baal Shem Tov." He stood there, dressed in his white "kittel" and wrapped in his tallit that covered also his bent head. As everyone waited whilst the Baal Shem Tov prepared himself for the sacred prayer of "Kol Nidrei," those nearer to him saw a shadow pass over his face, but no one dared ask him what was wrong.

His obvious distress was reflected in the faces of all present, as they recited the very moving Kol Nidrei prayer. During the brief pause between Kol Nidrei and maariv, the Baal Shem Tov again became sunk in thought. Suddenly, a gentle smile lit up his face and, as he asked that maariv be said, everyone present felt a relief which they did not understand. They did not know the reason for their beloved Rabbi's earlier distress, nor did they know the reason why he smiled. All they knew was that whatever affected their saintly leader, also deeply affected each and every one of them.

At the conclusion of Yom Kippur, the Baal Shem Tov told his followers the following story:

My friends, he said, I am going to tell you what affected me so deeply last night during the 'davening.' The story is connected with a Jewish innkeeper in a nearby village. The innkeeper was a very fine, honest and orthodox Jew whom the landlord, a Polish nobleman, greatly admired and treated as a personal friend. Suddenly, without any warning illness, the innkeeper died, leaving behind him a young widow with a baby boy. The poor young woman became deeply affected by her loss, and before long, she, too died.

The Polish nobleman was very upset about the passing of his tenant and friend, and when the widow also died, he felt it his duty to take the baby into his care now that it was a helpless orphan. He was a very kind man and gave the baby the best care and brought him up as his own, son.

Years passed and the child did not know that he was not, in truth, the real son of the Christian nobleman. One day, however, the nobleman had invited some friends of his to visit him at his estate, and whilst their children were playing together in the garden, one of them in the course of a quarrel called the nobleman's "son" a Jew. The boy quickly ran up to the nobleman crying, and asked him if it were really true that he is a Jew?

"My dear boy," he replied gently. "You know how much I love you and that I have treated you as if you were my very own son. When I die you will be my heir; I'll leave everything to you - my estate, my orchards and my forests. What more could I do for you?"

"So I'm not your real son! So I am a Jew and you never told me," the boy burst out sobbing. "Who were my parents? I have to know, please!"

The nobleman put his arms around the boy's shoulders trying to comfort him. "My boy, you can be proud of your parents. They were very fine people indeed; good, G‑d fearing Jews. Your father was my friend. It was for his sake that I felt it my duty to take you into my home and bring you up as I would my own son. But you know I have no other children and I love you very dearly."

Bit by bit the boy got the whole story of his own poor Jewish parents. The nobleman told him that his parents had nothing at all to leave him excepting a small package that he had hidden away in a safe place, waiting for the right moment to give it to him. The moment had now come and so he went and brought the package and gave it to the boy.

With trembling hands and a quickly beating heart the boy opened the package and beheld an old black velvet bag with strange gold lettering on it. He opened the bag and took out a white wool shawl, something else which looked like two small black boxes wound around with black leather straps, and a book. Of course the boy did not know what the tallit and tefillin were, nor could he understand what was in the thick "book" which was a Machzor. But because these precious things had once belonged to his parents, his real parents, whom he had never known, he meant to treasure them as long as he lived!

By a lucky chance the nobleman had to leave on a business trip, which gave the boy a chance to think in peace and quiet. He took long walks in the woods and spent hours thinking. He realized that he loved the nobleman and was grateful to him, and yet - a strange feeling took hold of him that urged him to seek out his Jewish brethren. He knew there were some who lived on his "father's" estates. He would go and see them; talk to them. Perhaps some of them even remembered his parents!

That night he dreamt that his parents came to him, first his father, then his mother. They told him he was now no more a child. He must know he is a Jew and go back to his Jewish people where he belongs.

The next day, very early, he quickly crept out of the house so that none of the servants should stop him or question him. He walked until he reached the next village where he saw some Jews packing some bundles onto carts.

"Good day to you," he called to them. "Are you going to a fair?"

"No, not this time," they replied. "It will soon be our holy festival Yom Kippur, so we are taking our families to the next big town, so that at least at this sacred time we can all pray in the synagogue with other Jews."

The boy returned home lost in thought. Why had he not taken his parents' gift with him to show to these Jews? They would have told him what they were for. The thought gave him no rest. Also, what was Yom Kippur?

A few days went by and the nobleman had not yet returned. The boy suddenly decided he was old enough to make up his own mind about this thing that affected his very future. He was a Jew and he meant to go back to his people! So he packed a few clothes together, took some food along, left a note telling his "father" where he had gone, and set off for the town to which the village Jews had said they were going.

After several weary days of travelling, getting a "hitch" when he could, but mostly walking, he finally reached his destination. He found out where the shul was and reached it just as the haunting notes of the Kol Nidrei service were being sung. Quietly the boy slipped inside and took a place near the door.

The scene that met his gaze filled him with awe. He looked around him and beheld Jews of all ages praying with all their hearts, some with tears in their eyes. He felt a lump come into his own throat as he quietly took out his own white shawl and wrapped it around his shoulders. He took out his book and tried to hold it as he saw the others holding theirs. But when he opened it and could neither read nor understand the words, sobs suddenly shook his young body.

With the tears streaming down his cheeks, the lad cried out: " O', G‑d! You know I cannot read, nor do I know what to say and how to pray. I am just a lost Jewish boy! Here is the whole Prayer Book! Please dear G‑d, take out the right words to form the prayers for me!"

The despair of this poor Jewish lad reached the Heavenly Court on High, and the gates were flung open for his prayer. And together with his simple prayer, our prayers', too, were accepted.


When the Baal Shem Tov finished this moving story, tears stood in the eyes of all his listeners. And often, when praying, they thought about this strange story of the young Jewish lad who had been lost for a time. And they thought of themselves that they, too, were often like lost souls who did not really know how to pray as well as they should. They all earnestly hoped, like the boy, that the kind and merciful G‑d on High would accept their prayers, and grant each and all a truly happy new year, for the important thing about prayer is, after all, the sincerity and devotion to G‑d, which come from the heart.