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A Pauperís Prayer

There was once a wealthy townsman who got the notion in his head to lead the prayers on the High Holidays. The local worshippers did not like the idea, but nobody was daring enough to oppose the town's bigwig.

A rabbi from  a neighboring town heard of their dilemma and decided to take matters into his own hands. He summoned the rich man and explained to him that in the book of Tehillim (Psalms) there is reference to three types of prayer: the prayer of David, the prayer of Moses, and the prayer of a pauper. “Now,” said the Rabbi, “I cannot grant you the musical voice of David or the saintliness of Moses. However, the one thing I can do is pray that you should lose your fortune, in which case you will have the broken heart of a pauper. Then your prayers will surely be accepted.”

As legend has it, the rich man readily grasped the Rabbi's message and withdrew his demand. However, the moral of this story is not intended for him alone. It has an important message for all of us, regardless of whether or not we have any intention to lead the prayers on Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur.


By nature, people are ashamed to ask  for favors of others, especially for their basic needs. There are those who would rather starve than admit that they are in need. And this shame is a central motif in our prayers on Yom Kippur.

Each of us knows that we could have done  a lot better in the past year, and that we have plenty for which we need to ask forgiveness. And not necessarily are we worthy of G-d's forgiveness. However, G-d is compassionate and merciful, and will surely grant us forgiveness, whether we deserve it or not. For this reason our approach must be “a pauper's prayer,” with all the humility and shame of a pauper who is asking for an undeserved favor.


At the same time we must keep in mind that there is no limit to G-d's mercy. Our father in Heaven is ready at any time to receive His children who return to Him. Even if we do not always sense G-d's compassion, it is there, and in its merit we will be signed and sealed for an additional year of life and prosperity.

With the true and complete Redemption, we will experience the full force of G-d's compassion. According to the prophets, as soon as the Redemption dawns, King Moshiach will pass judgment on every individual, and this judgment will be an expression of G-d's mercy.

In the words of Rabbi Joseph I. Schneerson, the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, “The judgment of Moshiach will be that he will observe, see and sense the reasons that brought the sinner to sin. He will also sense that the sinner did not truly desire to commit those sins, but was unable to overcome his desires.

“Moshiach... will enter into the difficult lives of the Jews in exile, and will arouse compassion upon them and find merit for them. They did not wish to sin, but did not have the strength to overcome their evil inclination. Moshiach will see their good side... and therefore: Jews! Do teshuvah, and regret the not-good deeds. The teshuvah and regret will help us merit the revelation of Moshiach.”

May the entire House of Israel be signed and sealed for a good and blessed year!



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