“I need a rabbi! Help me! I need a rabbi right now!” The shocking, ear-splitting cry shattered the stillness in the synagogue.

The first 30 blasts of the shofar had been sounded, and the community was in the middle of silent contemplation, praying the ancestral words in the centerpiece of the Rosh Hashanah prayers, Musaf—the additional service that commemorates the extra sacrifice offered on Shabbat and holidays during the time when the Holy Temple stood in Jerusalem.

ItThe ear-splitting cry shattered the stillness was Sept. 15, 1958, the first day of the two-day Rosh Hashanah holiday.

A wild-eyed man, broken, cowed, his body trembling with deep wracking sobs, hid his face in his hands and whimpered the words, over and over, completely oblivious to the shocked onlookers. Despite being deeply immersed in the holy prayers, my father, Rabbi Dovid Schochet, closed his Machzor prayer book and left the pulpit to soothe the pain of a fellow Jew in crisis.

At the time, my father was a young 26-year-old rabbi who had been sent immediately after he had married as an emissary of the Lubavitcher Rebbe to bolster Jewish life in Toronto. With tender compassion, my father guided the man to a chair and urged him to sit down before pouring him a glass of water.

Tears gushed from the man’s eyes as he divulged his saga. His beloved wife had taken ill unexpectedly and deteriorated quickly to the point that the doctors determined that there was nothing that they could do to save her. She would be dead within 48 hours.

“Rabbi, please help me. What do I do now?” The man explained that though completely unaffiliated, he had passed the Chabad center often, as he lived on the next block, and had come there straight from his wife’s hospital bed for guidance.

In their conversation, my father explained to the heartbroken man that a most significant and meaningful way to memorialize the dead was to recite the Mourner’s Kaddish. The 2,000-year-old prayer is dedicated to praising G‑d and is recited at the daily morning, afternoon and evening prayers with a minyan for 11 months.

“Traditionally, the Kaddish is said by children for their parents. Do you perhaps have a son who can honor your wife in this way?” My father asked, although the man did not look old enough to have a child who would be able to fulfil this duty.

“My only child is an 18-month-old baby girl,” said the man. “But I will do it. I will honor my wife, the love of my life! Although I have never frequented a synagogue before, even on the High Holidays, I commit to doing what I need to do!”

My father explained that this would involve putting on tefillin each morning and praying three times a day with the congregation in the synagogue.

“I understand completely. Right here, right now, I pledge to fulfill my obligation.” The strength of the man’s resolve was evident in his red-rimmed eyes as he turned to meet my father’s gaze.

“Clearly, G‑d wants a relationship with you in which you connect to Him and invite Him into your life. G‑d knew that you would step up and take responsibility to honor your wife by showing up in synagogue and praying every day,” my father said. “This is what G‑d wants of you.” The man contemplated my father’s words.

“So tell G‑d, ‘I understand what You want, and I want to do what You want me to do.’ Accept upon yourself to have this relationship with G‑d, and then there is no reason for your wife to die.”

InIn the midst of his pain, the man ratified his deal with G‑d the midst of his pain, the man ratified his deal with G‑d.

At the conclusion of the Rosh Hashanah holiday, my father called the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s office in Brooklyn, N.Y., to recount the details of the events that had taken place and to give the Rebbe the woman’s name for a blessing.

When he later visited the hospital, he found that the woman was recuperating and was expected to be discharged in the next few days.

The next morning—and at the three daily prayers for the following 11 months—my father and the community greeted the grateful husband.

“This is the essence of Judaism’’ my father explained to me. “We must always ask ourselves: ‘What does G‑d want from me?’ ”

“Sometimes,” continued my father, “G‑d sends us difficult challenges. But like a loving parent, these predicaments are to help us grow personally and develop an even stronger relationship with Him. And often, we can avoid the situation by learning the lesson and connecting more deeply even without having to undergo the hardship or difficulty. At any given time and place, our connection with G‑d is able to grow, even if we have to dig deep and be creative because it’s not the way we have connected with Him before.”

A recent severe injury rendered me immobile and left me questioning my purpose. My father had intuited my pain and frustration, and so told me this story precisely when I needed to hear it most.

“Wow, G‑d,” I thought, “I felt like You were so far away while I was here at my lowest point. I am not alone in this. You are here, and I want You present in my life. I want to be an active partner in our relationship. I want to do exactly what You want me to do.”