There’s an old joke about a young man who’s considering going into the rabbinate in America. An elderly European man sees him learning diligently. This older man, more than slightly cynical of the American rabbinical scene of the 1920’s, thought it strange this young man was spending so much time on Yoreh Dei’ah and Shas.
“Why do you spend so much time learning Shas and topics which no one in Americawill ever ask you about?” he asked the young man. “Don’t you know that in Americaall the sheilos are “oder niftar, oder maftir?” (All of the questions you’ll be asked in this country are either about mourning [niftar- the deceased], or who gets which honor in shul [literally, who gets maftir.]) As long as you know who sits shiva and who gets maftir you don’t need to know anything else.”
I’m not commenting on the authenticity of the anecdote; one thing is true, however, and that is that people can get a little testy and touchy when it comes to getting the amud for yahrtzeit and for the year of mourning.
I always get a knot in my stomach when two aveilim (people in the 12-month period of mourning for a parent) approach the amud at the same time and I have to decide between them, as they both have a chiyuv (obligation) to lead the davening, but obviously only one can.
There’s much halachic literature on the subject; even so, it’s always uncomfortable to tell a person that someone else’s loved one takes precedence.
This week a new unseen crisis arose.
As in many shuls, there are men who are kavua (set and consistent) in their attendance at one of the shul’s minyanim. Therefore, when one of these men has a chiyuv (required to lead the davening because of mourning ) he takes the amud for that minyan.
On this day, the regular fellow who has the chiyuv for a Minchah minyan arrived and approached the amud to daven. However, he was not wearing his suit jacket. There’s a specific “dress code” to lead the davening and wearing a jacket is a definite part of it. He told me he’d run so fast out of his house to get here on time, he’d forgotten his jacket. He then asked if an exception could be made for him just this one time.
However, before I could even open my mouth to tell him he couldn’t daven for the amud without his jacket, another fellow who also has a chiyuv saw what was going on. Without hesitation he took off his jacket and handed it to the first man.
The first man looked at the second. Then he said, “Maybe you should daven for the amud. After all, you also have a chiyuv, and it’s your jacket.”
The second man replied, “No, you take the jacket and the amud. My father would have told me to give you the jacket and have you daven.”
As he walked to the back of the shul I could only imagine the merit and nachas his father must be getting from him at that moment.
After all, the true reason we daven for the amud during the mourning period is to give merit to our loved one who has passed on. What greater nachas and merit could a person give his father than giving the “shirt off his back” to allow someone else to daven for his loved one!