THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF RABBI PINKY SCHMECKELSTEIN
Ask Rabbi Pinky – On Tefillah BiTzibbur (Communal Prayer)
I need the benefit of your wisdom and experience.
We have recently started a Hashkama minyan in my shul, much to the Rav’s dismay. I personally wonder why we should spend 3 hours doing what only takes 1.5 hours, unless of course you are talking about being fruitful and multiplying.
My question to you, Rav Pinky: Is that extra hour and a half spent in the main minyan bitul Torah?
Thank you for your help in clarifying this troubling question.
Dear Reb Yankel,
Thank you for your critical and insightful question.
Eppis, Tefillah BiTzibbur is a tremendously important and misunderstood mitzvah, so I am glad at least one of my talmidim asks about it, instead of the usual shailah about apikorsus or sexual innuendo, chass ve’sholom. Sadly, there is too much focus on sex in our Dor. When you are sitting in your house, and when you are traveling on your way. When you lie down, and when you get. Too much. It’s dirty. Ichh! Now I need to go the the mikvah with some 300 pound cholent-fressers to get the thought out of my mind…
Now, I would actually characterize your question into a couple of subordinate questions: Does length really matter? And is a little variation good for the relationship? Err… I mean… When it comes to davening, do we care how long the davening is? And how should we consider the occasional aspiration to be Poiraish Min Hatzibur, separating oneself into a different Kehillah, spinning off as a Hashkama minyan, or a chulent-kugel minyan, or a woman’s minyan chass v’sholom, or a “young marrieds” minyan, or a youth minyan, or a gay minyan, or a local chassidishe shtibul, or a Sephardic minyan, etc.
To answer these questions, we will of course begin by looking to our Avois in the Toirah for the principal clues. I ask you, when Avraham Avinu stopped at Ur Hakasdim to daven Shacharis, was it a quick, meaningless Shacharis, like you do everyday, you miserable minuval? Or did Avraham take his time to put on his Tefillin, have the proper kavannah, recite the Karbanois, and make sure not to skip anything? When Yitzchak Avinu davened Mincha, did he mumble through Tachanun? Or did he make sure to say every word, especially when referring to himself during Shmoineh Esray? Did Yankif Avinu, while studying in Yeshivas Shame V’Eyver, skip an occasional Maiyriv to spend a bit more time on the basketball court or to surf porn or the Internet? Or did he daven with Yiras Shamayim even though it was nine o’clock at night and he was missing his favorite TV show? What kind of vilda chaya are you to ask such questions anyway?
No. Tefillah has always been the cornerstone of Yiddishkeit. Even in the desert, Moishe Rabbeinu led Klal Yisroel in Tefillah BiTzibbur. A Medrish in Shmois Rabbah describes the beauty when all of Klal Yisroel surrounded Har Sinai, shuckling in unison during the Shmoineh Esray. There they stood, united in kavvanah, at the height of their communal holiness. Indeed, according to the Medrish, the Aimishteh planned to bring about the redemption right there on the spot, erasing the need for forty years of wandering the desert and for Kibbush Eretz Yisroel. But just as Hakkadoshboruchhu was about to reveal himself, someone in Kehilas Yankif broke wind, offending the Reboinoisheloilum and the rest of the congregation, thereby delaying the Geulah for many millennia.
Even during the period of the Malchuss Bais Duvid, Tefillah was the essence of Klal Yisroel’s relationship with Hakkadoshboruchhu. Sure, there were Koihanim who brought sacrifices in the Bais Hamikdash for spare change; but their trade was established because, nebech, they studied for too many years in yeshiva and couldn’t hold down a real job. So it was either karbanois or selling cell phones.
But for the rest of Klal Yisroel, there was davening. Why else did Duvid HaMelech write all those Tehillim? Not to write silly poetry, you MeChutziff! What do you think he was -- some kind of left-wing homosexual Arab loving college educated self-hating Soinay Yisroel? No! He was a groisseh tzaddik, and when he wasn’t busy studying Toirah, he was cutting off Philistine foreskins (except for when he was busy being Mezaneh with the wives of his generals.) Yes, even back then, Klal Yisroel, Kehilas Yankif, regularly reached out to commune with the Reboinoisheloilum through the fundamentally mystical act of prayer, as well as through IM.
So what is the essence of Tefillah? Tefillah is more than just an act of individual unity with Hakadoshboruchhu. Were it only that, there would be no special inyun, no higher value, to the notion of Tefillah BiTzibbur. But Tefillah is also about the joining of the voices of Klal Yisroel. Essentially, it is about the power of community.
As a communal act, prayer is not only about the recitation of liturgy. It is also about acts of prayer, the trappings including:
-- Having a Shaliach Tzibur lead Shacharis
-- Having a chazzan schlep on and on and on during Mussaf until you are ready to ingest that cyanide pill sewn into your Talis Katan
-- Having some Bar Mitzvah boy read from the Toirah while three sadists in the minyan drool in anticipation as they wait for him to make a mistake so they can correct him in the ultimate act of Toirah-inspired humiliation.
But Tefillah is also about the social exchanges within a congregation. After all, throughout the Galus, as much as Klal Yisroel preserved Yiddishkeit, Yiddishkeit preserved Klal Yisroel. While our ancestors were cast across the furthest reaches of the globe, scrounging about for a living and to find some solace from millennia of persecution, they were able to maintain their unique identities through the institution of Tefillah in the Bais HaKnessess, the synagogue. Now, if all they had done during davening is daven, I assure you that you and I would now be speaking Latin or Arabic while sleeping with hot shiksas. However, they also used their time to build strong social bonds during davening by discussing chiddushim on Toisfois, linkages for business, insights on sports, perspectives on politics, and assessments of the talent on the other side of the Mechitza. Tefillah -- and in particular talking during davening -- became the cornerstone for the survival of the Jewish People.
Consequently, whenever the is a lull in the action – silence between aliyas, a pause while waiting for the Chazzan to recite a Bracha, an insignificant or boring part of the davening, it is a mitzvah for a Ben Toirah to talk to his neighbor in shul and perpetuate the social bonds that are the essence of Klal Yisroel. Indeed, according to the RAMBAM in Hilchois Tefillah, when one talks during davening, it is as if he has saved a life. Consequently, the RAMBAM holds that talking during davening is a Chiyuv Dioraisa, a requirement mandated by the Toirah.
As such, we all know that one must be Marbim BeMitzvois, one must spend as much time as possible engaged in fulfilling the commandments. So given the importance of davening, the longer the better, and one should always include a healthy dose of talking. And on Shabbos, a day we are charged with sanctifying, we should must add special sanctity to morning Tefillah by speaking extensively throughout the davening with other members of the Tzibbur.
I am reminded of a famous story about Rabbi Yitzchak Meyer Alter, the first Gerrer Rebbe. The Rebbe was once traveling to collect funds for the sect’s Shaytel G’Mach. One night he stayed in a lodge run by a older Polish woman and her three adult daughters. As it was time to retire for the evening, the woman asked the Rebbe, “Rabbi, would you like anything before I turn in for the night?”
The Rebbe responded, “Well, you should turn in at once, but I would like for your three daughters to come and visit me in my bedroom.”
Shocked, the woman asked, “All three daughters! How can a devout man like you have such bad intentions?”
The Rebbe smiled and looked the woman right in the eyes. He then spoke, “Let me ask you, when you cook, do you cook for only yourself, or for the entire lodge?”
“The whole lodge of course, guests and all” she whispered tersely.
“My good woman, if I go back to my room by myself, I will end up bringing joy to myself. Why should I not share the joy with all three of your daughters?”
Satisfied at the answer, the woman asked to go back to the Rebbe’s room as well, to which he agreed on the condition that she would wear a bag over her head. Shoyn.
Now, with regard to your other shailah regarding establishing a second minyan, Chazzal are very much divided on this topic. According to a Yerushalmi in Orla, “anyone who splits up a congregation, it is as if he brought about the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash. Or even worse, drank a cup of coffee without a Hashgacha.” However, according to the Roish, commenting on a Gemarrah in Nezikin, “A community must maintain a multitude of congregations just as a rich man maintains a multitude of oxen.” So which position is correct?
On this I would like to offer a very practical solution. You should explain to your rabbi that a Hashkama minyan is not an effort to take away from the centrality of the main minyan, but represents an attempt to broaden the appeal of the shul to a wider target audience. Who knows, maybe some guy who lives in the neighborhood, eats traifus and sleeps with farm animals will find out about the early minyan, attend one day, and do a full and complete Teshuvah. And who is your rabbi to stand in the way of a lost soul returning to the fold of Yiddishkeit?
If that doesn’t work, you can also donate a couple hundred dollars to the rabbi's discretionary fund. Throughout the millennia of Diaspora, that's always helped too.
Ah Gutten Shabbos, you minuval.
Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess