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The Best Defense: Yom Tov with my Rebbe

Chany Rosengarten

Off They Go The small valise is packed with bare essentials, as a minivan carrying five other chassidim arrives and honks outside. “Be good, Yankele. A git gebentschte yur. I’ll daven for you.” He squeezes his nine-year-old’s hand. He looks to his wife. “Thank you. We’ll talk more when I arrive.” “Why can’t they all switch rebbes for a while?” a neighbor observes and shakes his head. “That way they’ll all get to stay home.” “I’m not sad,” Blima insists. “We want them there. The effect lasts a

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

shulRocking the Rafters

On the Rebbe’s turf, the streets are teaming with other chassidim — the familiar faces, the young ones, the ones who’ve known each other since yeshivah but have parted ways. For a moment, each man’s personal life is at once suspended and magnified, a time for introspection and prayer.

When a chassid arrives to his rebbe, he first goes to “take shalom.” The Rebbe might inquire on his wellbeing, take stock of his family, ask about his business, and check into his spirituality.

Once Yom Tov begins, chassidim participate in an intense level of avodah that leaves them charged with spiritual energy for the entire year.

“I would never have been so encouraging had I not seen it myself in the early years of my marriage,” says Mrs. Chaya Rubin, whose husband is a Belzer chassid. “The davening is beautiful. I hate to admit it, but after being in Belz for two years, the davening in the local shtiebel just doesn’t do. Try comparing the davening of 60 people — or even 600 — to the ‘amen’ of 6,000. In the main Belzer shul, the ‘amen’ rocks the rafters.”

In Belz, the boys daven in a designated balcony. Instead of standing next to their fathers, who are engrossed in prayers of their own, the boys sit together and are led by madrichim through the entire davening. The voice of the tinokos shel beis rabban rises along with their elders to form a beautiful canopy of prayer. It’s hard for a heart to remain unmoved.

The shul’s acoustics carry the baal tefillah’s voice so that it is clearly heard by all. Davening this way infuses every word with new dimensions of meaning.

In Gur, the chassidim recite tefillah quickly; they hurry to keep their concentration on the words, so their focus won’t jump ship. It’s hard for a person unaccustomed to their style to follow. Still, thousands and thousands of Jews davening together are able to offer up a prayer so resounding, the very heavens tremble.

Group Encounter

It’s not just the davening; it’s with whom one is davening that lifts a chassid up. Observing the Rebbe in prayer gives each chassid a demonstration of the awe and splendor with which to approach our Father, our King.

The crowd presses in on either side of the davener and hangs onto every word. Up ahead, one man suppresses a sob and from another a fervent prayer is heard. A man is swept up in the moment, in the movement of the davening, in the very air that wants to leap forth, to pray.

Belonging to a group, seeing your acquaintances once a year, slapping the back of an old chaver, drinking l’chayim among the elder chassidim, and of course, being swept up in the Rebbe’s tefillos, all gives a man the sense that he’s in the place where he belongs. This gives strength when the Rebbe issues a new rule, directs on a particular path, and guides his chassidim through life. It anchors a chassid among his peers, and he is automatically networked into a community that protects him and offers a hand along the way. 

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