Starting with Kol Nidrei and concluding with Ne’eilah, our major preoccupation on Yom Kippur is prayer. We have a special Yom Kippur Machzor filled with all sorts of prayers, and in fact, while normally on a Shabbat or Yom Tov the Amidah is recited three times during the day, on Yom Kippur it is done a fourth time during the Ne’eilah service. In addition to the prayers printed in the standard Machzor, undoubtedly, many have an abundance of their own thoughts and requests. Whatever lofty thoughts you are pursuing, permit me to bring to your attention something I believe we should all sincerely ask for.

I will preface this with a popular chassidic story.

There was a poor Yeshuvnik, a hard working Jewish peasant in Poland, who eked out a meager livelihood from his small parcel of land. He loved his land, and he yearned for more. If he could have but a few more acres to till, he would be the happiest man in his village.

There was a little Synagogue in that community, which this Jewish peasant attended regularly. One Kol Nidrei night, after everyone had departed from the Synagogue, he tarried a little while longer, saying Tehillim and pouring out his soul unto G‑d. He then approached the Aron Kodesh and cried aloud: “Oh Rebono Shel Olom, if I only had a larger piece of land, how happy and how contented I would be!”

The Poritz — the local duke who owned practically all the land in that territory — happened to drive past the Synagogue that Yom Kippur evening. Noticing a light there, he was curious to find out what was taking place in the Jewish synagogue at that late hour. He opened the door and entered the Synagogue quietly, just as the Jewish peasant was offering his special prayer to G‑d. The Poritz understood every word of it, for he had lived all his life among Jews. So the duke approached the praying Jew and said: “Itzik, I happened to have overheard your petition, and it moved me deeply. Now I am willing to make you the following offer: The day after your fast, at the crack of dawn, you will present yourself at the gate of my palace; and at my signal you will begin to walk through my fields and villages. All the land that you will cover from sunrise to sunset will be yours. But there is one condition to this offer: You must be back at the starting point by sunset. Should you fail to return to the gate of my palace by sunset, you will get nothing at all.” When the Jewish peasant heard the words of the Poritz, he kissed his hands in gratitude, and rushed home to tell the great news to his wife and children.

The day after Yom Kippur, long before dawn, Itzik ran to the appointed meeting place, followed by his wife and children. At sunrise, the Poritz appeared and gave the signal for Itzik to begin. And Itzik began to walk. As he continued, he increased his speed, for there was lush and fertile land all about him.

After a while he walked so fast that his wife and children found it hard to keep up with him.

“Itzik, don’t run so fast! Take it easy — watch your health,” they implored.

“Can’t you see that every moment means another acre of land for us? I’ll talk to you tomorrow. Tomorrow we will be rich, and I will buy for you and for our children the finest and the best. But now I must hurry on.”

Itzik passed a neighbor concerning whom he had heard rumors that he was in a desperate financial condition. The man beckoned to him:

“Itzik, I know you to be a warm-hearted person. Please help me with a loan for a short time, and you will save a Jew from ruin.”

The truth is that Itzik would have liked to help this worthy individual. But how could he bother with him at such a time? So he rushed him by, saying, “Sorry, I can’t stop to help you now. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow when I’m rich, I’ll set him up in business and make him secure for the rest of his life,” he thought to himself.

The sun was circling towards the West, and Itzik was approaching the little Synagogue where only the other night his prayer was miraculously answered. It was time for Minchah, and one of the congregants stood at the door of the shul and beckoned to him: “Reb Itzik, come in and daven with us. We need you for a minyan. You will help a Yahrzeit to say Kaddish. It will take only a few minutes:”

But Itzik was out of breath and he motioned with his hands that he could not even stop to answer him. Itzik thought to himself “Tomorrow I’ll be rich, and I’ll rebuild the shul, and I’ll erect a beautiful edifice to house a yeshivah for the children of our village. But now I have a few more acres to cover and to possess.”

Picture the following scene: The sun is now setting rapidly, and Itzik is heading for the starting point. His legs feel as heavy as lead. His mouth is as dry as dust; and his heart is no longer beating but pounding like a drum. He knows that for his own good he should stop. But he can’t; for he is determined to acquire all the land he covered. So he runs faster and faster. As the last rays of the setting sun touch the treetops, Itzik plunges toward the starting point, and falls to the ground — dead.

Afterwards, the Poritz with a wry cynical smile on his lips, called out to one of the peasants: “Ivan”, he commanded. “Ivan, take a hoe and go to the Jewish cemetery. There you will dig a grave six feet long and three feet wide, and see to it that Itzik is buried there. This is all the land that he really needed.”

Dear Friends, there is no need for me to elaborate how many people — even good people — go through life like Itzik in this Chassidic tale.

So many wives beg their husbands, “Let’s spend a little more time together.” And the husband, with a hurt look on his face, will protest: “For whom do I work so tirelessly, if not for you and the children? Wait a few more years, and I’ll be all set. I promise you that then we’ll live!” But you know that that promise is seldom fulfilled.

A child will approach his father and plead: “Daddy, help me with my homework” or “Sit down and talk to me for a while.” And, inevitably the answer is: “No, my child, Daddy is too busy right now. Soon I’ll be able to take it easy, and I’ll give you all the time that you want.” But somehow that day never arrives.

How many people react the way Itzik did to the needy? We come to a person and ask for help, and he says apologetically: “Not now. In a little while when I will have made my fortune. Please wait a little longer.” And we are still waiting.

And so we race through life, until the sun begins to set. We pass from the forties into the fifties. The time for Minchah in our lives is suddenly upon us; and some of us begin to realize that we ought to stop and enter the Synagogue to renew our faith with our G‑d and to strengthen the bonds that tie us to our people.

But we seem to lack the will power to stop the mad race; and we postpone this renewal for tomorrow — when we are older and able to retire. But tomorrow is such an elusive thing. It seldom comes.

On this holy day our prayers should also contain the following. First, let us thank G‑d for all the things he has done for us. Hashem gave us so much during the past year! Health, happiness and children.

Then let us pray for the gift of a good heart, one that will enhance our sensitivity for our families, needs of our people and a feeling for Torah and Yiddishkeit. Finally, last but not least, we should pray to be imbued with the proper seichel — good sense — to be content with His blessings and enjoy them in the fullest manner. May Hashem grant us good health, wealth, and nachas from our children, together with ample time to enjoy the blessings.

(הרב דוב ארי' ז"ל בערזאן)