Friday, July 27, 2012

Mistakes during prayer

It's been just over eight months (about 250 days) since my mother died. Since that time I have been called upon to daven (pray) from the Amud (act as prayer leader) many times. My best estimate is about 175 times, since I don't daven on Shabbat, there have been days I didn't lead prayers and these days I'm usually asked to lead prayers once a day, usually at Shacharit (morning prayers). This involves the public repetition of the Shemona Esray (the prayer, also called the Amidah) except at Ma'ariv (the evening prayer).

No matter how many times I recite the words of the Amidah, I stammer, stumble and mispronounce some of them. Not many. Not enough for people to take much notice. But I'm aware of every error. There are a few tongue twisters that often get me. Sometimes I space out and pause before regaining a sense of where I am in the repetition.  My Hebrew is fairly fluent but I don't speak and pronounce the language like a native speaker.

Is it a big deal? Maybe. Yesterday the Rabbi taught the fifth Mishna of the fifth chapter of Mesechet Brachot. It reads in part: "One who prays and errs, it is bad sign for him; if he is the prayer leader, then it is a bad sign for those who appointed him, as a person's representative is as if he is the person himself." The Mishna goes on to tell of Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa who could tell who would be healed and who would die based on how fluent the person's prayer was.

But, I thought as the Rabbi spoke, I'm not representing the community because I am especially qualified. I am leading because my mother died and so the community had decided I have a "chiyuv" (obligation) to lead prayers. It's my very status as a mourner that has thrust me into this role, a role that is both wanted and unwanted.

After prayers, I talked to the Rabbi who explained that he didn't think the Mishna was talking about minor errors in prayer. It probably had in mind skipping entire paragraphs or reciting them out of order (more likely when prayer books hadn't yet been printed).

In any event, I will probably continue to make mistakes, though I would like to daven a hundred percent fluently on my mother's Yahrtzeit. But I'm not going to drive myself crazy about it. Frankly, I appreciate when other prayer leaders make mistakes. It humanizes them. A few months back there was an old man who had to be helped to get through the repetition by someone standing right next to him. I remember that prayer more than the many times I've heard the Amidah being repeated flawlessly.


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