On Yom Kippur there is a certain tension between two dominant characters. One is the High Priest and the other is the prophet Isaiah.
The two have very different approaches to this holy day. The High Priest emphasizes the rites of worship. The prophet Isaiah stresses the moral aspects. The High Priest wishes us to observe him at his ritual work while the prophet tells us that on this holy day we are the ones who should act.
The prophet says (Isaiah 58, 6-7):
"Is not this the fast that I have chosen?........to give your bread to the hungry and bring the poor that are cast out to your house? …..to cover the naked and not hide yourself from your own flesh?".
In the days of the temple, the High Priest was the central figure in the rites of worship. On the other hand, the prophet turns to us as individuals and tells us that at the centre should be our own hearts, softened as a result of our fast.
I would like to refer to another verse in the haftara of the prophet Isaiah, undoubtedly one of the sharpest and most telling of the year's haftarot.
The prophet speaks of the pure connection between Jew and non-Jew; about the fast that is desirable, the charity that is desirable and the prayer that is desirable. He speaks of strengthening our connection to God and doing His will whole-heartedly. At the end of the haftara he says: "Then you will call and the Lord will answer: you will cry out and He will say "Here I am" (Isaiah 58:9)
In the holy scriptures the word "Hineni" is special.
Rabbi Isaschar Frand points out that in most cases the word appears in a person's reaction to a call of God, as with Abraham or Moses. But this time, on Yom Kippur, God uses it in reaction to a person's appeal if it is made as it should.
The Gemara gives us several hints as to the correct appeal.
For example, in the Tractate of Yebamot (62b) it is written: The person who loves his neighbor and brings others closer to one another is the one who will be answered "Hineni" when he cries to the Lord.
It is striking that to be privileged to get the answer "Hineni" the Gemara does not suggest reading psalms, or midnight prayer, or wearying fast, but rather loving Mr Bouskila on the fourth floor and Aunt Shoshana's new husband. That's all: Loving neighbours and bringing others closer.
There's a story about Rabbi Yehonatan Eischvitz of Prague. One day he had to spend Yom Kippur in a small town far from his home. He wished to remain anonymous and did not tell people about his being there. He came to prayers , looked around, and was pleased to see someone praying seriously and whole-heartedly and thought it would be a good idea to next to that man.
He sat there and heard the man say, "Hashem, before I was born I was nothing and now in my life I am dust and will be so in my death. Before You I am a vessel filled with shame and disgrace."
This was undoubtedly a sincere prayer and that night the Rabbi too prayed with intent next to that man.
The next day, during the Shacharit prayer, Rabbi Yehonatan again sat next to that man and heard him say the same prayer with tears in his eyes. Rabbi Yehonatan felt closer to heaven next to that Hasid.
The time came for being called to the Torah and the Hasid was called for the third aliya. He jumped to his feet and started shouting. "I get the third aliya and that man was called before me!! I donate to our synagogue ten times more than he does. I've been a member longer, I'm cleverer. My ancestry is superior!"
Rabbi Yehonatan rubbed his eyes and couldn't understand how that man, who before had called himself 'dust', now shouted about his superiority over someone else.
He addressed the man and said, " I heard your words before and how you humbled yourself. How is it that now you speak with such arrogance?"
"What do you say?" answered the man sitting next to him. "I am dust compared to Hashem, not compared to him."
How can we assess the worthiness of a person?
By the way he behaves towards others.
To behave towards others with love arouses the divine "hineni"
We all love people in general. The real challenge is to love Mr Buskila on the fourth floor and Aunt Shoshana's new husband."
To love our neighbor and bring people closer together.