For the past several years I have been davening Shabbos mornings in one of the local yeshivos. It is comfortable, quiet and my chavrusa sits across from me. Immediately after davening, we learn and I don’t have to involve myself with the inevitable politics that occurs in some shuls. My family and I are also members of a well-known and prestigious shul. The Rav is an extraordinarily respected talmid chachom and posek. The people are chashuv and menschlich. It’s also quiet and there are no disparaging conversations. However, the needs of the yeshiva are few while the needs of the shul are many. After nearly two years of the Rav saying to me with a big smile, “Come around a once in a while, we miss you,” combined with my boys’ (ten and seven) desire to attend Shabbos groups and my wife’s thirst to develop and bond with others, I relented. Considering that I am not easily persuaded about most things, my wife was shocked at how efficiently and effortlessly I began davening at our shul. Of course when the Rav finally looked at me straight in my eyes and ominously stated, “You’re making a very big mistake, ” I had little choice.
Indeed, the Rav’s statement evoked within me a stunning realization. True, it is easier and more comfortable to daven in a yeshiva, but it was all about me. davening, learning and perhaps most significantly, decision whether to involve myself in whatever needs I chose, whereas davening in a shul renders involvement inescapable. Though this may explain why I began davening in my shul, it doesn’t explain the ease with which I did so. That, I believe, is attributable to the reverberation of the Rav’s words.
Nearly twenty years ago, shortly after I became observant and before I was married, my father came to spend Yom Kippur with me. After returning home, he wrote me a gut-wrenching letter in which he conveyed his feelings about my becoming observant. Having grown up in a very frum (observant) family, seeing me return to the very same beliefs and practices that my zeide so meticulously cherished and observed warmed him beyond expression. He wrote, “I now see the beauty of Yiddishkeit that he saw and tried so hard to communicate to me. You have become everything my father hoped that I would become but didn’t. My life has now come full circle. I am content knowing that you are the man he hoped I would be.” A few of years later, after having married my lovely and wonderful wife, my father joined us for davening on Rosh Hashanah. At the end of Mussaf, my father remained in his chair and began to cry. When I asked him if everything was okay, he replied, “I just realized that my father probably expected me to say Kaddish for him and worried about whether I would. I never did. Thank G-d, I don’t have that worry.” Incidentally, I’ve only seen my father cry four other times – at my zeide’s kever , at my chuppah and the brisim of my two sons.
What does this have to do with davening in a shul? Well, several weeks ago, my son brought home his “davening and bentching ” card from his yeshiva, which is intended to strengthen their daily tefillah skills. On that card, where it asked him to write in the person he most wanted to daven like, he wrote in “my father.” Imagine that. Just sitting next to me in shul has made a colossal impression on him. How then could I continue to daven someplace where he wasn’t motivated to go? Okay, so he still doesn’t always come with me and when he does, he doesn’t always daven. Of course, he doesn’t know much I continually struggle to achieve and maintain proper kavannah. But the message to me is now loud and clear. My children must see me continually involved in the community in order for it to make an impression on them. Though the list of communal needs may be endless, can you think of a more significant one to start with than tefillah b’tzibur?
While the influence exerted by my wife and my Rav made resistance futile, the magnetic energy of my children made the ride smooth. As for my father, he should live and be well until a hundred and twenty, but he can rest assured that when it does become necessary, I will say kaddish for him. And Hashem willing, I can rest assured as well.