A young truth-seeker visited the famed village of Kotzk to learn from the Kotzker chassidim and to observe the way they conducted their personal service of G‑d.

It was all too strange. In Kotzk people didn’t live normally orIt was all too strange act respectfully. At every opportunity they would speak about the pursuit of absolute truth, they spent all hours of the day studying Torah and would pray on their own schedules, beginning when they felt emotionally prepared to engage with G‑d.

Strangest of all was the surreal announcement he heard on the first night of Passover. As the chassidim sat around the synagogue, praying or studying as usual, an elder pounded on a table to get their attention and reminded those present to head home for dinner.

Dinner?! It’s Seder night! “Normal” Jews have been looking forward to (and preparing for) this evening for weeks and he’s just flippantly referred to the sacred ceremony as dinner? These Kotzkers are crazy!

And a few months later as Yom Kippur was beginning, he again wandered into the main shul of Kotzk to find himself present at an almost identical scene. The chassidim were scattered around, each engaged in study or personal reflection, when one man piped up announcing that it was time to start and asked if anyone would like to volunteer to lead the evening services.

Evening services?! It’s Kol Nidrei night; the highlight of the year! Where’s the special cantor? Where’s the aura of sanctity and solemnity? What is the matter with these people that they treat these most cherished institutions in so cavalier a fashion?

Horrified, he was about to rush out of the room, silently resolving never to return to this den of meshugoyim, when one of the chassidim—who’d obviously seen and understood his extreme reaction—stopped him with a reassuring arm across his shoulders.

“Calm down, young man. What are you getting so worked up about? Don’t you understand that in Kotzk, every time we pray we treat it as a Kol Nidrei night, and every time we sit down to eat, for us it’s like a Seder!”

Once a Year

At the end of this week’s Torah portion we read about the twice-daily incense which was offered in the Temple. We read about the dimensions of the golden altar, its location, and the schedule on which theHow did Yom Kippur catch a mention here? incense would be offered. We replicate this schedule nowadays with our morning and afternoon prayers, as we offer sacrifices of time and commitment to G‑d.

The very last line of the weekly reading seems a total non-sequitur. “Once a year, on Yom Kippur, Aharon would sprinkle blood onto the altar as an atonement.”1 It doesn’t seem to make sense; how did Yom Kippur and annual atonement catch a mention here? It’s just not the right place. There is an entire portion—Acharei Mot—which details High Priest’s Yom Kippur Temple service. Why bring it in here, so seemingly out of context?

In a 1992 speech, the Rebbe suggested that there is an extraordinary life lesson to be learned from this verse. People tend to get into a routine and lose appreciation for their daily conventions. We pray every day and then do it all over again the next day. It’s all so humdrum and predictable. Only on the red-letter days such as Yom Kippur do we stop to contemplate the mysteries of the Divine and the uniqueness of the day.

But every day is unique; every opportunity to connect with G‑d is a moment when our soul can bond with the source of our existence. By pausing from the description of the daily sacrifice to reference Yom Kippur, the Torah is teaching us that every moment and day of our lives is a moment of Divine inspiration, and every time we pray it should be our personal Yom Kippur.