The Man Who Was Always Late: The Power of Forgiveness

We have begun the Jewish month of Elul, the month that leads us into Rosh HaShanah. During the month of Elul, we are urged to begin the hard work of the High Holidays, which includes apologizing and forgiving. The story below, which I shared last Friday night, reminds us of the power of forgiveness – a power that each of us possesses. Perhaps this story will inspire you to use your power this year.

The Man Who Was Always Late

Try as he might, Reb Dovid found it impossible to be on time. It always happened that he either overslept or became sidetracked and forgot about his meetings.

At last Reb Dovid came to Reb Zalman about it. Reb Zalman was very curious to know why Reb Dovid was unable to overcome this flaw, so he sent up a dream question about it, and that night he learned in a dream that Reb Dovid’s soul had always known this affliction. In fact, in a previous life he had even come late to his place at Mount Sinai. For when the Holy One had apportioned time to souls, a playful angel had taken a hundred and one minutes from him and given them to another soul, one that always came to be too early.

So it was that in subsequent lives, despite all efforts to correct this flaw, Reb Dovid’s soul had continued to suffer from it. In some lives he had served as a soldier, who had been punished for not being able to follow orders on time. In other lives, when he had been a woman, he had missed the time to light the candles and as a result had desecrated the Sabbath. Thus when Reb Zalman awoke and recalled this dream, he recognized that Reb Dovid’s flaw, which had haunted him since the time of the creation of his soul, would not be a simple one to eliminate. And Reb Zalman gave the matter much thought, but he could not think of a way to restore to Reb Dovid’s soul the hundred and one minutes the angle had robbed him of.

Reb Zalman continued to meditate on this matter, and meanwhile Reb Dovid suffered from his flaw, saying his prayers late, after the stars had appeared, and having his matzos condemned because they reached the oven too late. These failings caused Reb Dovid great pain, for they were completely unintentional. And the scoldings he got did not help, because of his soul’s disposition to tardiness.

The next time Reb Dovid came to Reb Zalman with this problem, Reb Zalman told him that he could not help him in any direct way, and Reb Dovid was so distraught that he forgot to give Reb Zalman a message from Reb Levi of Ludmir, inviting Reb Zalman to serve as the mohel at the bris of his newborn son. Only once he was on his way did Reb Dovid remember this message. Then he pleaded with the coachman to turn back, and after he promised to pay additional fare the coach did return to Zholkiev. Once again Reb Dovid stood before Reb Zalman in tears, and shrugged his shoulders as if to say, “I’m afraid I have done it again.” Then it was difficult for Reb Zalman to arrange things to leave with Reb Dovid at once, so Reb Zalman gave him the bag of the tools for the bris and told him to meet him at the home of Reb Levi in the morning. Then Reb Dovid assured Reb Zalman that he would let Reb Levi know that he was coming, and would have everything there on time the next day.

Reb Zalman took the coach early the next morning after Shaharis, and hurried to Ludmir. But when he arrived he was not met by Reb Levi or someone from his household as he had expected. At last, with the aid of some children Reb Zalman found his way to Reb Levi’s house, where he saw the strained patience on the faces of those present, but no Reb Dovid with the bag of instruments for the circumcision. This time Reb Zalman too felt anger at Reb Dovid rising in him, and he explained that he could not go on with the bris until Reb Dovid arrived.

Then someone left to fetch Reb Dovid and found him asleep. He woke him, got Reb Zalman’s bag and asked Reb Dovid to hurry for he too was needed for the bris. Meanwhile , at Reb Levi’s house, they began making preparations for the bris. The table was set and Reb Zalman began to chant to invite Elijah to join them. Suddenly Reb Dovid entered and the air was charged, and Reb Zalman realized that it was not right to proceed with the bris while so much anger was in the air. So he turned to Reb Dovid and said: “Before we can complete the covenant of the bris, we must remove the taint of anger that hangs in the air, so that will not cling to the moment of the child’s covenant. Therefore I must ask you to lie face down on the circumcision table.” Reb Dovid and the others were amazed at these words, but Reb Dovid did not resist, and did as Reb Zalman had said.

Then Reb Zalman turned to the others present there and said: “Let those who felt anger toward Reb Dovid, as I did, come forward and place your hands on his back. Instead of scolding him we will put the power of our anger at the disposal of his soul. For does he himself not scold himself enough as it is? For know that his soul is innocent of the failing, and longs to be on time. What is needed is that each of us give his soul a few minutes of our lives, so that it may have restored to in the time that was snatched away so long ago.”

And although the others present did not understand what Reb Zalman meant, still each and every one came forward and placed their hands on Reb Dovid’s back, and in this way each of them gave him a few moments of their lives. And Reb Dovid wept without ceasing, for in all his lives he had not been met with so much love. And after that Reb Dovid no longer had a problem with time, but arrived promptly everywhere, and became known as one who could be fully depended upon. As for the child, the love and warmth present at the time of his bris made the seal of the blessing of the covenant so strong that it could never be broken, and his love and loyalty to his heritage and to the Holy One Himself, blessed be He, never wavered.

The power of forgiveness is truly incredible.

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