Once during the Ne’ilah prayer, the Baal Shem Tov cried and entreated more than usual. As he aroused Divine mercy on the community, a great prosecution was aroused against him for encouraging Jews to settle in villages and out-of-the-way places where they were likely to be influenced by their Gentile neighbors. When the Baal Shem Tov began to examine the behavior of the village dwellers, he saw that the situation was very grave. The chassidim noticed the Baal Shem Tov’s concern and they also intensified their prayers and crying. When the rest of the congregation saw this, their hearts were shattered and they also joined the impassioned supplication.

There was a young man there from a village, who had come for Yom Kippur to the Baal Shem Tov’s synagogue. He was completely uneducated and he stood the whole time looking at the face of the chazzan without saying anything.

As a village dweller, the boy knew the sounds made by all the different farm animals, and he especially esteemed the rooster’s crowing. When he heard the weeping and the outcries, his heart was also shattered and he cried out loudly, “Cock-a-doodle-do! G-d, have mercy!”

The worshippers in the synagogue were confused to hear a voice crowing like a rooster, and a few of them scolded him to quiet him down and would have thrown him out if he had not protested, “I am also a Jew.”

The confusion was pierced by the voice of the Baal Shem Tov followed by the chassidim as they hurried to finish the Ne’ilah prayer. The face of the Baal Shem Tov shone, and with a special melody the repetition of the Amidah commenced for the Ne’ilah prayer.

As the sudden sound of the call of the village dweller was heard in Heaven, its sincerity brought great pleasure Above, nullifying all the prosecutions.

The above story can help us understand the importance of the ketores (incense) burned by the Kohen Gadol in the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur. The ketores offering was the most prestigious service in the Beis HaMikdash. Twice a day, the ketores was burned on the golden altar, but on Yom Kippur, the Kohen Gadol also offered the ketores in the Holy of Holies. If the ketores was accepted, the Kohen Gadol exited the Holy of Holies and the Jewish people were forgiven.

According to Chassidus, the animal sacrifices in the Beis HaMikdash represent offering our Nefesh HaBahamis (animal soul) to Hashem – the sublimation of our natural instincts to the Divine Will. The ketores, on the other hand, represents our Nefesh HaElokis (G-dly soul).

Even though we no longer have the Beis HaMikdash, the animal sacrifices and the ketores play an important part in our davening. Now, the ketores is a spiritual ketores, which exists within us as teshuvah (returning to Hashem). Teshuvah is the return of oneself to one’s essence, a spark of G-dliness, which is immune to sin and corruption. It is the return to one’s true, inner self. This teshuvah arouses Hashem’s Divine Mercy and nullifies the decrees against us.

Like the young boy in the Baal Shem Tov’s shul, who tapped into his inner self, his spark of G-dliness, to become one with Hashem in the only way he knew how, may each of us merit to do true teshuvah this Yom Kippur, return to our true inner selves, and become one with Hashem in the way we know how. In the merit of our teshuvah, may we be blessed with the Geulah Shleima, when all will become one with Hashem.