From the Erotic and the Holy by Marc Gafni:
A line, circle, shadow story from the depths of Hebrew mysticism.
Every year in the days approaching the new year, people would be awakened for the special early morning forgiveness prayer. The truth is, people were awakened at around three in the morning and came to pray while it was still pitch black. These were not the usual morning meditations. Instead, they were special prayers of arousal in which one would try to awaken oneself from more than the sleep of the night. It was a bid to awaken from the accumulated stupor of the entire preceding year. This is the primary time of the year for teshuva, the return of which we have been speaking.
With that background of the spirit, you will understand just how amazing that what happened really was. In this particular year, everyone in the town arrived late at the prayer hall and shared the same strange dream. They had dreamt that they were awakened to prayer by the Outcast. It was a strange dream, so they did not get up till it recurred again and again, finally rousing them from their slumber.
Now, the Outcast was the most shunned member of the community, if you could even call him a member. He had not been to a prayer meeting for more than twenty-five years. He gave no charity, and did not participate in the community in any way. He had no wife or children. Yet, as he worked in a nearby tavern, he lived and walked the town. No one had talked to him for a very long time.
Not knowing what to make of this all they asked their teacher Levi Isaac of Berdichev. Levi Isaac sent for the wife of the caretaker. You see, the caretaker, for many years, had been responsible for waking people up for the morning prayers. In the depths of the night, he would walk through the streets, knocking on window panes, crying out,“Arise, arise to return to your soul. Arise, arise to return to you soul!” He had passed away some weeks back and so his widow, Sarah, had taken over his job.
“What happened this morning,” asks the master very quietly.
The widow responded to Levi Isaac, “I thought I would start at the edge of town. The first house belongs to Yossele, the Outcast. So I woke him first.” She then fell silent.
“Well, good and gentle woman , what happened then?”
“Perhaps you should ask Yossele,” responded Sara.
So the outcast was invited to the Great Master’s court. “Tell us,” said Levi Isaac, “what happened.”
“Well,” said Yossele the Outcast, “I heard this knocking at my window pane. ”˜Arise! Arise to return to your soul!’ At first, I thought it was a mistake. The caretaker had never come to arouse me for the early prayers. I went back to sleep. But then I heard it again. ”˜Arise! Arise to return to your soul!’ It was a woman’s voice. Somehow, it got by all the layers and all the walls and went like an arrow into the depths of my soul. I recognized Sarah’s voice. I was so moved that she came to wake me that all of the years of bitterness and anger seemed to simply melt away.
I called to Sara, ”˜Wait a moment.’
She did, and when I had quickly thrown on some clothes I said to her, ”˜It is the middle of the night and so cold. I know that you have three kids at home. Go take care of your kids. I know the streets of the town and all the houses. I will rouse everyone.’ And so it was.”