Tuesday, September 17, 2013

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A Gabbai’s Lament

by Reb Akiva @ Mystical Paths

Torah_Reading1A gabbai is the coordinator of formal synagogue services.  He assigns who is leading prayers and coordinates (hopefully in advance) who will be the Torah reader, calls people up to the Torah during Torah reading, and may also supervise decorum during services.  Depending on the size, a synagogue may have one to four active gabbais during a service, and different gabbais at different services.  In addition, some Rebbe’s and Torah leaders also have a gabbai, who similarly acts as a coordinator of the Rebbe or Torah leader’s holy activities.

We received the following note from a gabbai of a small synagogue…

In the article “Malchiyos, Zichronos and Shofros”, the author wrote “people say they do not have time to contemplate. During these days, especially during the long services of the High Holy Days, we should remember what our sages say, “It is better to say less, but with proper devotion, than a lot with little devotion!” There is so much time we spend in Shul. Take a short Tefilloh, a prayer that speaks to you, and say it slowly over and over till you have internalised its message.”

Given the length of the davening (prayers) to be completed on Yom Kippur, it seems to me we have a choice to "keep up" and "get through the material" or to "focus on areas with devotion" but not keep up.  Perhaps this is just a personal problem for me, maybe because I am our shul's gabbai, so I always feel rushed to be ready, make sure things are moving, that people are lined up for kibuddim (honors such as being called to the Torah), and keeping an eye to make sure the children that have been brought to shul aren't doing anything unusually destructive or interruptive.

The author responded:

We cannot know what is most beloved in G-d eyes but something tells me that your work as a gabbai is perhaps as important if not more so than our tefilos (formal prayers).

From all accounts, Heaven loves the mitsvos done between man and his fellow-man more than anything (and honoring people and giving them a role in synagogue services is the primary job of the gabbai).  [See Bartenro, end of Brochos, for example.]

Besides that, our 'gabbled' davenning (said quickly without concentration) is also important, even if we sometimes can't sense that…  The (previous-previous) Visnitse Rebbe had a gabbai who as gabbai for the Rebbe was very busy and once, the Rebbe asked him, have you davened shacharis (did you pray the morning prayer service) today?

He answered bashfully, that he hadn't had time [because of his duties etc.]  And besides, he said, of what worth are his tefilos (prayers), which he has to gabble off quickly?

Answered the Rebbe - you can see I saw that you had not davened (prayed) [i.e. they do make an effect – even if just done quickly and perfunctory].

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