The crowd waited silently for the Rebbe. Many kept glancing at the doors, hoping to be the first to see his entrance, and others simply bowed their heads in meditative quiet. The Rebbe of Stolin had locked himself in his study prior to the blowing of the shofar. It was his custom every year to reflect and prepare himself spiritually before blowing the shofar on Rosh Hashanah day, and many traveled from afar to spend this special moment in Stolin.

But something was amiss. Fifteen minutes passed, then 30. Never had the Rebbe been late before. By the time an hour had passed, the sentiment in the synagogue became one of worry.

The Rebbe’s gabbai (attendant) was suddenly seen weaving between the shoulders of worshippers. Some flattened themselves against their neighbors to help him get to the front. He rushed to two esteemed chassidim and whispered hurriedly in their ears. The two exchanged apprehensive looks, and without saying a word, followed the gabbai out of the hall. The door swung shut, and as though waiting for the right moment, the room erupted into furious whispers.

“There is a grave decree hanging over us, and the Rebbe is pleading to G‑d to overturn it!”

“Perhaps the Rebbe isn’t feeling well?”

“Maybe some tragedy happened in the homes of those two?”

Many other speculations followed, but no one could say for sure.

Sometime later, the gabbai appeared and motioned to everyone that the Rebbe would soon proceed with the shofar-blowing. A minute later, the Rebbe of Stolin finally walked in. His face radiated a heavenly glow and his mind was visibly absorbed in divine realms. He wasn’t alone, though. A young man, dressed more like a gentile than a Jew on Rosh Hashanah, was locked arm in arm with the Rebbe. A wide-brimmed straw hat hid his face, and his eyes, moist with tears, were downcast. The Rebbe handed the stranger a prayerbook and began busying himself with preparations for the shofar-blowing.

“Shloyme.”

Someone recognized the young man, and the name rippled across the room in hushed voices. The name was a familiar one, too, and for some, it warmed their hearts to see his return. But no one knew how this happened. As the service continued, Shloyme never moved from his place up front, his face buried in the prayerbook he was holding.

Only at the end of the service did the full picture emerge.

In his youth, Shloyme had been talented and ambitious—eager to pave his own path in Torah study.

Then the unthinkable happened. Shloyme abandoned everything he had once held dear as the winds of assimilation blowing from the West tugged him in a different direction.

Some three months later, he had changed his appearance, preferring to dress like his gentile neighbors, and started working at a carpenter’s workshop on the outskirts of town.

That Rosh Hashanah, the Rebbe of Stolin withdrew to his room before the shofar-blowing and sat there for longer than usual. He then summoned the two esteemed chassidim and said to them, “I can’t continue without Shloyme among us. Leave now and don’t come back until you’ve found him. Tell him I’m waiting and I will not blow the shofar without him.”

The pair made their way to the carpenter’s shop. To pick out Shloyme from the rest of the workers was difficult at first, but the incredulous expression at seeing the chassidim in full holiday garb betrayed his identity.

“The Rebbe is waiting in his room for you. He will not begin the shofar-blowing without you,” they said.

“Shofar,” Shloyme mumbled. “Shofar . . .” He looked as though he were engaged in a bitter struggle with something immutable deep inside him. Not knowing what would happen next, the chassidim kept silent.

The minute stretched painfully. Suddenly, Shloyme cast the hammer from his hand and seized the leather apron he was wearing, pulling it over his head and throwing it on the floor. Without a backward glance, he broke into a run.

The Rebbe of Stolin was beaming when Shloyme arrived. Wordlessly, the Rebbe curled his arm around Shloyme’s elbow, and together they strode through the crowded sanctuary.

Shloyme stayed for the second day of Rosh Hashanah, as well as the Ten Days of Repentance and Yom Kippur. He remained in the community for Sukkot and Simchat Torah. Never again did he return to his old ways.

He had come home.

Translated from Sichat Hashavua 873.