A reminiscence by Rabbi Zev-Hayyim
It happened once that I attended Shlomo Carlebach’s synagogue for Simhat Torah. With me were several friends, including one – I’ll call him Morris – who claimed to be an atheist. Indeed, he had commented to me on numerous occasions, “If G*d existed, I would oppose Him!” Still, Morris attended, not because it was a /religious /thing to do, but because it was a /Jewish /thing to do.
The time came for dancing with the Torah scrolls, and Morris, in his turn, was handed a scroll. He accepted it and danced with it, not because it was a /religious /thing to do, but because it was a /Jewish /thing to do. So enthusiastically did he dance that he broke three bones in his foot and did not even realize it until the next day.
Years later, I was attending a class given by a Habad rabbi in Atlanta, and, in the course of the evening, I recounted the story of Morris at Simhat Torah. One of the other members of the class then asked me, “And did he then become religious?”
“No,” I replied. “He was the same atheist afterwards as he had been before.”
“Then what good did it do?” my questioner demanded.
“When Morris comes before the Heavenly Court after one hundred twenty years,” I said, “those three broken bones will come limping out and testify to the court that, at that moment, Morris was fulfilling a Mitzvah that the greatest tzaddik cannot fulfill.”
“What Mitzvah is that?” sneered my questioner.
“Would that they had forsaken Me but clung to My Torah,” I said, and the rabbi teaching the class smiled broadly.