Once, during the days between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, known as the Ten Days of Repentance, a simple hassid (disciple) of the famous Rebbe Yisrael Baal Shem Tov (founder of the Hassidic movement) asked his master two questions.
The holy Baal Shem Tov ("Master of the Good Name") sent his hassid to the neighboring town of Yampol.
First: What is the most fitting request to make of the Almighty during this period when we are taught to "seek out G-d when He is most available"? Since the Bible promises that "on this day (of Yom Kippur) you shall be forgiven of all your sins... before G-d shall you be purified," it seems superfluous to ask for Divine forgiveness. So, should we ask for another year of life, should we ask for a year of good health, for a job that will pay a good salary, or shall we ask for nachas from our children? After all, we don't want to bombard the Almighty with too many requests lest He see us as spoiled and demanding children who don't deserve anything at all.
And the hassid's second question was why Sukkot falls out only four days after Yom Kippur. Was it fair or reasonable that so soon after we get up exhausted from our fasting we must immediately begin to build a substitute house and decorate it? Why doesn't G-d leave us a little breathing space between Yom Kippur and Sukkot?
The holy Baal Shem Tov ("Master of the Good Name") sent his hassid to the neighboring town of Yampol, to seek out Rabbi Yehiel Mikhal of Zlotchov: "Send him my regards, stay with him a short while, and you will receive the answer to your questions without even saying a word."
Arriving at Yampol, the disciple inquired as to the whereabouts of Rabbi Yehiel Mikhal and was greeted with strange looks from everyone he approached. An elderly man offered the visiting hassid the following explanation:
"Yehiel Mikhal - and we don't know him to be a rabbi - is a very holy man, but also a very peculiar kind of Jew. He studies the holy Zohar all day, never looking up from the sacred letters of the text except when he prays. He prays vehemently and even violently, hitting his head against the wall until blood starts flowing. But despite his prayers, he is very poor, to the extent that there is generally no food in his house and he never shops for himself. The door is always open, there is a chair set out for wayfarers who may stop by, and after sitting in the room for about an hour, Reb Yehiel Mikhal manages to scrape up a meal for the stranger. You are welcome to visit him, and it's even beneficial, because when he feeds his guest he also remembers to eat something himself..."
The perplexed hassid was directed to the hovel of Yehiel Mikhal, opened the door and found a chair as if he were expected. Just as the townspeople had warned him, after about an hour Reb Yehiel motioned for him to wait a little while longer. He removed a book from the bookcase, which seemed to be the only furniture in the room, and left. After a while, he returned without the book. Apparently he had sold it, trading it for some herring and a loaf of bread. He invited his guest to eat, even taking a morsel of food for himself.
As the meager meal progressed, the hassid brought greetings from Rebbe Yisrael Baal Shem Tov, but could not restrain himself from asking his host - whom he had seen engaged in fervent prayer as if he were physically confronting the wall - why he didn't pray for such basics as food, for a real home instead of a hovel, for a family of his own.
Before answering, Yehiel Mikhal smiled a faraway smile: "Such prayers are meaningless, even arrogant. Let me give you an analogy. You are invited to the wedding of the year, the wedding of the century; the king is about to marry his beloved bride, and the entire populace is celebrating. The fancy invitation even includes the menu, delectable course after delectable course.
"But alas, the young bride falls ill and tragically dies barely an hour before the ceremony was scheduled to take place. Most of the guests have already arrived at the palace, and so they quietly and tearfully return to their homes. One individual remained, however. He went over to the royal chef, pointed to the invitation in his hand, and requested each of the courses he had been promised. Can you imagine how disappointed the king must be in that individual, even if he did instruct his chef to fulfill his culinary requests? In the wake of the canceled wedding, how could the guest even think about the nuptial dinner menu?
The Sacred Marriage between G-d and Israel has been, at best, put off, postponed.
"And so it is with us," concluded Yehiel Mikhal. "We are in exile, our King is in exile, the Sacred Marriage between G-d and Israel has been, at best, put off, postponed. Shall we request to partake of the wedding feast? We can only pray for the wedding to take place as soon as possible."
When the disciple returned with his report to Rebbe Yisrael Baal Shem Tov, the Master added another principle to the words of the holy Rabbi Yehiel Mikhal of Zlotchov:
"On Rosh HaShanah we pray that G-d be proclaimed King over the entire world, that the Sacred Marriage, which will bring unity to the world, shall come about immediately. On Yom Kippur we are transported to the Holy Temple, the nuptial canopy; the High Priest proclaims everyone purified, we hear the triumphant trumpet-shofar of the Almighty, we cry out: 'Hear Oh Israel, the Lord our G-d, The Lord is One, Blessed be the Name of His glorious Kingdom forever, the Lord (of Israel) he is G-d (of the world).'
"But alas, this is all a dream - a glorious dream - but not yet a reality. And so immediately after we awaken from the dream, with the blast of the shofar, we must build our modest sukkah, symbol of the exile of the Divine Presence, move into that sukkah with our entire family, and pray that the 'Merciful One re-establish for us the fallen tabernacle of King David' and transform our small sukkah into the Eternal Temple; at that time all nations will flock to attend the Sacred Marriage of the Divine and the redemption of all humanity."
The hassid had received the answers to all his questions.