I must admit, that as each year passes, on Yom Kippur at the Chassidsha Shul where I regularly daven (pray), it got more and more “less enthusiastic”. As I get older, it seems the schlepping (drawn out), screaming of the chazzan, hitting the bimah (lectern) got the better of me. I know Yom Kippur is a time for intense praying, and many people are indeed inspired by this way of praying. However, people are not the same, some need this style to be motivated to pray with intensity and others are inspired by a Chazzan (cantor) with a sweet voice.
On my way to my regular Shul, where we start Kol Nidrei a bit later, at the last minute, something pulled at me and I passed by my Shul and kept going. I went to the “Schiner’s Shul” in our neighborhood. Now, this Schiner’s Shul is really a compound, it consist of 3 Shuls, a regular main Shul, a Visikan (daybreak) minyan and a Chabad house where the now famous Rabbi YY Jacobson lectures. There are 2 converted houses, one the Visikan Minyan uses, and the other is Chabad. There are 2 huge permanent tents in the back, one is where the regular minyan is held and the other is a huge Kiddish tent.
As I went into the main Shul I saw to my dismay, I had missed Kol Nidrei as they start earlier. I was upset, as Kol Nidrei is one of the main Yom Kippur prayer annulling your vows. I really felt bad for myself, but just then
I heard the start of Kol Nidrei coming from the other tent. My first thought was Chabad moved into the bigger tent and I went to join them for the Kol Nidrei prayer and then come back to the regular minyan. As I opened the door to the tent a strange sight befell me, there was about 100 people there – half Chassidim and half that looked all the way to the opposite spectrum. I did not recognize even one person there. Our community of Forshay is an avenge size community in Monsey, how is it that I can’t find a familiar face? As I looked closer
I was drawn back even further. The Chazzan (cantor) was a Chasidishe individual with the full blown garb right down to the white socks and as he led the chanting of the Kol Nidrei there was another 8-10 chassidim singing with him as a group. However, what struck me the most was……when the congregants linked arm in arm over each other shoulders forming a circle swaying to the Chazzans chant. I indeed did a double take!
It took me a few moments to realize my eyes are not deceiving me, I am not dreaming, but this is taking place in real time. My first reaction was to smile, as I realized this “Kol Nidrei” night was truly unique and different. After my initial shock, I settled down, and little by little I seemed to start enjoying this style, however, a little voice in me said “Sholi, is there nothing serious in your life anymore?” ……Doing Kol Nidrei as Ha’kofas!!!
As the Chazzan started the Selichos (supplications), one of the first ones are “Amnon Keyn” where each stanza ends where we shout out “Selachte” (I have forgiven ) We open the Ark for this Selichos, as it was written in 1190 by Rabbi Yom Tov ben Yitzchok during the anti Jewish riots in England following the coronation of Richard the Lion-Hearted. The Jews of York decided to take their own lives rather than summit to forced baptism and this was written as a way to ask G-d forgiveness for them. The tune this congregation used was a lively tune as opposed to the morbid one generally used. As we went from stanza to stanza the level of the congregation’s singing got louder and louder, until a group formed a dancing circle around the chazzan.
I joined in and for the first time in my life (without any stimulant, alcohol or any others) my feet were dancing by themselves. I closed my eyes, repeated the words after the chazzan in a loud voice coming from somewhere deep within me, and had an experience of euphoria hard to repeat.
I then dawned on me and I realized that when I opened the door to this Shul – it is a door I cannot close again. Up until now, every year I would bring books to read during the day (good ones, tales of the Vilna Goan etc.) just as an aid to help me pass the day. This year I needed nothing of the sort, my inspiration kept me occupied and I said the prayers with deep feeling while singing together with the beautiful group of Baalei Tiffilah. I thank G-d for having pity on me, and through these particular set of circumstances, sent me to the right place.
However, an un-easiness kept creeping up on me. Is this the way to pray on Yom Kippur? – The holiest day of the year. Is there not a balance in life where everything has a place and time? After reading some of the literature on the tables, I realized this group was a group called the “Dancing Rabbis” or “Traveling Rabbis” something like that, consisting of Belzer Chassidim, that are looking to inspire unaffiliated Jews to become even better Jews. They held services this year in our community, and do an inspiring prayer service including having a great guest speaker, Rabbi YY Rubinstein who spoke beautifully and inspiring, several times during the day. For unaffiliated Jews I know this is proper, however, for a FFB (Frum from Birth) is this proper??
My answer came when the leader of this group, Rabby Aryeh Royde spoke about the lively singing using a parable – A king wanted to keep his palace clean, he took two people from his town and told them their job is to clean his palace. He gave each one a broom to sweep the floors and a mop and bucket to clean the toilets. One of them was very morose and down having to clean the palace, the other was humming and singing. Finally, one tells the other, why are you singing, are you not aware you are cleaning toilets? He answered, yes I am cleaning, but I am cleaning the KINGS toilets! By doing so I am making the Kings palace, an even more beautiful place, why should I not be happy and sing. Yom Kippur, when we are cleaning ourselves from “sins” and as being the Children of G-d we are also cleaning G-d’s palace – why should we not be happy and sing?
When I went next door to listen to YY Jacobson’s sermon before the Yiskor prayer (remembering those that departed from this world) he took note of the loud singing coming from the tent. He said, we also sing as we confess our sins. Every congregation, even the most Litvish/Yeshivish say the Al Cheyt (confessions) with a song. He asked, imaging a person who wronged his friend and comes to ask forgiveness. He rings the door bell, comes in and starts…..AYAYA AYAYA this week I insulted you in front of everyone….AYAYA AYAYA last week I told the IRS on you…. AYAYA AYAYA I nearly got your wife to divorce you 4 weeks ago etc. etc. At the end he finishes off in a singing voice ….and for all this…forgive me… pardon me… accept my atonement.
A normal sane fellow would throw the guy out, you want to ask forgiveness, come in remorseful and in a serious way, you want to sing go to the opera. However, to our G-d, who is just and good while constantly waiting for us to ask forgiveness, we come onto him singing as he is waiting with outstretched arms for this. However, he did make note of the “over the top” in the tent and the level that could be heard half a mile. To me however, once we see singing is proper – the difference is now only the type of tunes and the level of loudness.
As pertaining to myself, I ask why is it proper to inspire unaffiliated in this way and not proper to inspire myself (please don’t comment – you are also an unaffiliated Jew). If this type and way of prayer pull at my heart strings, why should I not gravitate there? Is not tiffilla (prayer) called Avodah Sh’B’lev (Duties of the Heart). If that is where my Heart is, if this is how I am inspired….should I not go after it??
This reminded me, when about 30 years ago my good friend Chanina Weiss and I used to go to Reb Shloma Carelbach Z’L for the first night of Selichos. As we all know, he did it with a guitar and a band behind him. At that time it was only 20 -30 extra guys that went (not the hundreds today), we stood around the Bimah and sang with him half the night. Thirty years ago, they said we were crazy and making a joke of Silicos, today that style became a normal way. This year in Monsey they rented the sports auditorium of the Rockland Community College where over 1,000 people showed up to say silichos the Carelbach way with Yoli Lebovitz. This dancing Rabbi’s group only moved the needle to Yom Kippur. Mark my words – in a few years there will be many following this style on Yom Kippur, and why not if that is what moves people to daven (pray) better.
It also reminds me, of when the older Rabbi Jacobson, when asked to speak at the Carelbach silichos many years ago. He started off saying, there are many congregations, many different types and flavors of prayer. To some congregations it is Yom Kippur at every prayer, and to some it is Simchas Torah every prayer – here it is the latter. I go to Lakewood on many occasions and the Shuls where I daven (pray) everyone seems to look morose and sad at every tiffila (prayer), nobody smiles at all. I wonder is this what G-d wants of us, or is there another way to Pray??
I hope everyone had a good Yom Tov, all of our sins were forgiven, the slate was wiped clean – in whichever style or way you davened (prayed). May it be the will of G-d we will all be together in Yerushalyim next year!!
Kol Nidrei Redux (PDF)