A Chassidic story:
A wealthy merchant would regularly visit the Baal Shem Tov and would donate large sums of money for the Rebbe’s charitable causes. Eventually his fortune changed and his business failed, leaving him nearly penniless. When he went to visit the Rebbe again the Baal Shem, undoubtedly aware of the man’s dire straits, asked him for a huge donation of 400 rubles to aid the victims of an earthquake in the holy city of Tzvat. The man left upset and angry. How could the Rebbe be so insensitive as to request such a huge sum from him knowing of his financial hardships?
The man returned home and told his wife what happened. He then went out to think of a plan to raise the funds. While he was gone his wife gathered all the silver utensils in the house and went to the market to sell them. She brought back the coins and spent the entire evening polishing them. When the man returned home his wife presented him with a bag of coins. The next morning the man brought the coins and gave them to the Rebbe. When the Baal Shem emptied the coins onto the table he was taken aback by their shining brilliance. He blessed the man and asked how the coins had gotten so shiny. The man had no answer.
When the man returned he told his wife what had happened at the Rebbe’s and asked her where she had found such shiny coins. The wife answered that the coins weren’t shiny when she got them. However, since she knew that they would be in the presence of the Rebbe she stayed up for hours polishing them until they sparkled.
In a few weeks we will all stand in the presence of the All Mighty…Our Father, Our King. Even though we might be a bit dirty we should take this opportunity to polish ourselves up a bit so that we can shine before Him. Let’s pick one or two things that we feel we can “polish” in ourselves and work on them for the next couple of weeks. Even if we feel we won’t be able to keep it up for the long term at least we will be shiny and polished for the High Holy Days. It’s not hypocritical; it’s just taking one small step at a time and being the best we can be right now.
** This essay can be found in Deep Waters: Insights into the Five Books of Moses and the Jewish Festivals