“He’s Already There”
Those who arrived early at the village synagogue on Yom Kippur eve could not but notice the man sleeping in a corner. His soiled clothes, and the strong scent of alcohol that hovered about him, attested to the cause of his slumber at this early hour. A Jew drunk on the eve of the Holy Day? Several of the congregants even suggested that the man be expelled from the synagogue.
Soon the room filled to overflowing, mercifully concealing the sleeping drunk from all but those who stood in his immediate vicinity. As the sun made to dip below the horizon, a hush descended upon the crowd: the Rebbe entered the room and made his way to his place at the eastern wall. At a signal from the Rebbe, the ark was opened, and the gabbai began taking out the Torah scrolls in preparation for the Kol Nidrei service.
This was the moment that the drunk chose to rise from his slumber, climb the steps to the raised reading platform in the center of the room, pound on the reading table, and announce: “Ne’um attah horeissa!” The scene—the crowded room, Torah scrolls being carried out of the open ark—seen through a drunken haze, appeared to the man as the beginning of hakkafot on Simchat Torah! The drunk was confusing the most solemn and awesome moment of the year with its most joyous and high-spirited occasion.
The scandalized crowd was about to eject the man from the room when the Rebbe turned from the wall and said: “Let him be. For him, it’s already time for hakkafot. He’s there already.”