An Amazing Story
One of the principle beliefs of Judaism is the ultimate redemption and the coming of Moshiach (the Messiah). The following is a true story that I heard directly from the Rabbi involved.
Many prisons have Rabbis who volunteer their time to come to prison on a regular ongoing basis and meet with the Jewish inmates. A number of years ago, such a Rabbi spent the High Holidays - Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur - in prison. He was there to conduct services and have the holiday meals together with the inmates.
When Yom Kippur came, it was a very emotional time for all. Just before the closing service of Yom Kippur, the Rabbi made a heartfelt plea. The holiest day of the year was drawing to a close, he said, and everyone present should take the next few minutes to make a firm resolution to take upon themselves to do one more 'mitzvah' - commandment. The next few minutes there was total silence. Then the Rabbi concluded the Yom Kippur service and sat down with his fellow Jews for the traditional break of the fast meal.
During the meal, one inmate approached the Rabbi. Let us call him Sam. Sam was not one of the Rabbi's regulars who attended. As a matter of fact, this was the first time the Rabbi had met Sam. Sam asked the Rabbi if he could speak to him privately. Sam then explained to the Rabbi that he had almost no Jewish upbringing or knowledge, nevertheless he was very moved by the Rabbi's request. The Rabbi asked Sam what mitzvah he decided to take upon himself. Sam said Shabbos.
The Rabbi was taken aback. He explained to Sam that far be it from him to try to dissuade him of his resolution, but why pick Shabbos? Sam explained that this was the only mitzvah he knew about. The Rabbi went on to explain to Sam that the laws and ideas of Shabbos are very deep and complicated. Sam responded that he was not interested in any philosophy about Shabbos, just how to keep it. At the Rabbi's next visit, Sam was waiting. The Rabbi had brought a set of books explaining how to keep Shabbos.
Sam started to study these books. Each week he kept the laws of Shabbos that he had learned the previous week. It was slow going. One time the Rabbi came to prison and was surprised that Sam was not there. He thought that perhaps Sam was sick. He asked the other Jews in the group where is Sam? They told him an amazing story.
Sam was steadily reading his "manual" on how to keep Shabbos. Each week his knowledge was increasing together with his observance of Shabbos. Then, during his studies, he came across a quote from the Talmud, Tractate Shabbos page 118b: "If all the Jewish people would keep two consecutive Shabboses according to the law, then they would be immediately redeemed". After reading this, Sam decided that he could apply this to his personal redemption. He quickly finished studying the "manual" and started fully observing Shabbos. Then, all of the sudden, he was summoned to the administration offices. Even though he had much time remaining on his sentence, he was being released, effective immediately.
Till this day, Sam keeps Shabbos. Sam is still in contact with this Rabbi, and each year takes upon himself a new mitzvah on Yom Kippur.