Yom Kippur was almost over. The Baal Shem Tov’s pale face was tense, his voice hoarse from crying out to God. Every person in the congregation was agitated—something was upsetting their Rebbe.
Suddenly, from the back of the shul, a crowing began. Cock-a-doodle-doo. Cock-a-doodle-doo!
The stunned villagers turned and stared. There an adolescent boy, in the tattered clothes of a shepherd or peasant, threw back his head and crowed once more. Cock-a-doodle-dooooooooooo.
A murmuring began. What was this outrage? Two of the burliest congregants didn’t hesitate. They picked up the boy by the elbows and made to throw him out the door. but the Rebbe held up his hand and shook his head. He turned and began to daven the final prayer of the day, and everyone returned to their seats, the boy, too.
Later, after the fast was broken, some of the Baal Shem Tov’s leading talmidim approached him.
“Rebbe,” they asked, “Why didn’t you let us throw out the boy? He didn’t know how to pray from a siddur, he wasn’t fit to sit in the synagogue. He was mocking us with his rooster’s crowing.”
The Baal Shem Tov explained. A terrible decree had hung over the Jews and no matter how much he pleaded with the Heavenly Hosts, the Rebbe couldn’t see a way to avert the decree. But the simple, heartfelt cry of that “ignorant” boy moved Hashem and the decree was rescinded.
I stood in front of the Ohel where the holy Baal Shem Tov was buried. It was my first visit to Mezhibuzh and I was alone in the pre-dawn hours, preparing to say the morning blessings. I stared into the distant hills seeing, or more likely sensing, the green light of the almost-rising sun. Suddenly, my meditation was jarred by the guttural sound of a rooster crowing. Then another rooster crowed. The pair sounded like creaky door-hinges, but after a little bit of early-morning warm-ups, open-throated, almost regal sounds began to echo around me.
And then I began the morning blessings, with new inspiration.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’ אֶלֹ’ינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם אֲשֶׁר נָתַן לַשֶּׂכְוִי בִינָה לְהַבְחִין בֵּין יוֹם וּבֵין לָיְלָה
Blessed are you Hashem our God, King of the Universe, who gives the rooster the understanding to be able to discern day from night.
The word for rooster in this morning blessing is “sechvi.” But sechvi is also translated as heart. The rooster wakes us up, just as the yearnings of our heart should wake us; we should be moved to cry out to Hashem like the boy in the story, whether we have the words or not, and ask Him for mercy, and to continue to enrich our understanding and enhance our heart-connection to the Divine.
Every heart is a faithful rooster, one that believes that the light of dawn is coming, even if we can’t quite see the light. It will come.
*This is the first a series of short posts on Chassidus and our hearts, based on a talk given at the Manhattan JCC, co-sponsored by the Carlebach Shul. This post is is L’iluy Nishmas Malka bas Tziporah, sponsored by her granddaughter.