Mourning and the Right to Lead Davening

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(Cross posted at Blog the Kaddish)

Some of the rules of being a mourner seem obvious to me.  I understand why I’m prohibited from going to see a live music or theater performance, and I appreciate that restriction.  It makes sense to hold back from such public displays of jubilation and drama when I’m still, internally, an emotion basket case.  It also seems like a sign of respect to my mother that in the wake of her death I refrain from going to big shows and concerts.

But when I first heard that mourners had a greater hiyuv, or obligation, to daven, than other people attending a minyan, and were thus the preferred choice for leading services, I was surprised.  It’s one thing to require that we show up every day and praise God despite the raw grief we’re feeling, but it’s another thing entirely to say that we should lead others in long expressions of thanks every morning, afternoon and night.  That seems almost perverse.  Of course I can go through the motions, but should I–or any mourner–really be leading davening when they’re likely having a crisis of faith, or at the very least struggling with loss and acceptance?

That’s what I used to think, but I’ve changed my mind.

Some days I feel like I am in a constant one-sided conversation with God.  That whole bargaining stage of grieving? It’s for real, people.  So it makes sense that I’d be the person to lead the plea for his goodwill.  But also, and perhaps more importantly, when you’re a shaliach tzibur, you have to pay close attention to what’s going on.  You have to be more present in the moment than if you’re just answering Amen to someone reciting a blessing at the front of the room.  Grieving can feel like being very far away from the world, and from everything that’s happening in it.  Standing at the amud calling out words of joy and gratitude to God–it requires you to focus yourself, and it focuses others on your words.  You can’t be far away.

I didn’t think I would feel this way, but especially in the past couple of weeks I’ve been itching to lead davening.  I have a few things to say to God.  I can’t wait to stand at the Amud.

Posted on October 27, 2008

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