Authenticity First

Friday, 2 September, 2022 - 10:58 am

Once during the Neilah prayer, the Baal Shem Tov cried and entreated more than usual. The disciples understood that there was a great prosecution Above and the situation was grave, and they also intensified their prayers and crying. When the rest of the congregation saw this, their hearts were shattered and they also joined the impassioned supplication.

There was a young man there from a village, who had come for the Days of Awe to the Baal Shem Tov’s synagogue. He was completely uneducated, and he stood the whole time looking at the face of the cantor without saying anything.

As a village dweller, the boy knew the sounds made by all the different farm animals, and he especially esteemed the rooster’s crowing. When he heard the weeping and the outcries, his heart was also shattered and he cried out loudly, “Cock-a-doodle-do! G‑d, have mercy!”

The worshippers in the synagogue were confused to hear a voice crowing like a rooster, and a few of them scolded him to quiet him down, and would have thrown him out if he had not protested, “I am also a Jew.”

The confusion was pierced by the voice of the Baal Shem Tov, followed by the disciples as they hurried to finish the Neilah prayer. The face of the Baal Shem Tov shone, and with a special melody the repetition of the Amidah commenced for the Neilah prayer.

As Yom Kippur ended, the Baal Shem Tov related to his disciples that there had been an accusation leveled in heaven, with the prosecution seeking to have a particular community sentenced to destruction.

However, suddenly the sound of the call of the village dweller was heard in heaven, and its sincerity brought great pleasure above, nullifying all the prosecutions.

I had always heard this story growing up, but recently I read the “rest of the story” and here it is.

As the Baal Shem Tov aroused divine mercy on the community, a great prosecution was aroused against him for encouraging Jews to settle in villages and out-of-the-way places, where they were likely to be influenced by the village dwellers who were less observant. When he began to examine the behavior of the village dwellers, he saw that the situation was very grave. However, when the sound of the call of the village dweller was heard in heaven, and its sincerity brought great pleasure above, it nullified all the prosecutions.

This detail affected me personally. Often people ask me, what is an observant Jew doing living in Bel Air? Are there even Jews in Harford County? How do you expect to raise an observant family in Bel Air? Aren’t your children going to learn from others?

This story taught me that while this was a real concern even in the times of the Bal Shem Tov, the villager’s simple cry of “Cock-a-doodle-do! G‑d, have mercy!” mitigated this worry.

When one of us is out there, spending time with someone who is “less religious”, “less observant” or just a “village boy”, we must know:

1)    When spreading goodness, we won’t be negatively influenced
2)    Very possibly those who seem to be less observant than us, are connected with their Judaism in a real and authentic way
3)    Just because someone has less knowledge, in no way decreases that they are Jewish. “Your G-d is My G-d Too”
4)    Simplicity and authenticity may be able to accomplish more than all of our holy prayers together

May we all be blessed with to be written and sealed for a good year ahead!

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

Story translation excerpted from Days Of Awe, Days Of Joy. Published and Copyright by Kehot Publication Society, Brooklyn NY 11213 and can be found at

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