Sunday, September 23, 2012

My chiuv (obligation): a love-hate relationship

I've had a love-hate relationship with this kaddish business. On the one hand, it's given meaning to and provided an anchor for the mourning process. On the other hand, it sometimes feels like a burden and I question the value of repeating this prayer over and over again day after day. There are times in shul when I feel completely disinterested in the proceedings and can't wait to get out.

Still, I've made a commitment to pray and say kaddish for my mother as often as I can, which means attending shul twice a day for the three prayer services. Now that my obligation to say kaddish is nearing its end (only two and half weeks remain), I have no regrets.

But leading the prayers is sometimes more than I can handle. As I've written, as a kaddish sayer, I have a chiuv (obligation)--even more, I myself am referred to, or have the status of, a "chiyuv." (see and This means I have priority to lead the prayers over all others except those who are commemorating the Yahrtzeit (anniversary of death) of their parent or are in the Shloshim period (first 30 days after parent's death). (In an early post, I wrote that a Yahrzeit for a spouse, sibling or child has precedence over a Shloshim or regular chiyuv; I believe this is incorrect.) The result has been that, during this year of saying kaddish, I have been repeatedly called upon to lead the prayer service.  This is truly an honor, but one for which I neither volunteered nor feel particularly qualified. True, my davening skills are reasonable and have improved over the year. If I were really unqualified to daven from the Amud (lead prayers), I wouldn't be chosen to do so. The community is not going to suffer on my account.

Some days I feel ready and even look forward to leading prayers. During this period between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, I get to lead the recital of Avinu Malkaynu ("Our Father, our King"), one of the most powerful prayers in the entire liturgy. I find this experience powerful and humbling.

There are days, though, that I just feel like sitting in the back and being one of the participants rather than being "it." There are different ways to accomplish this end. One way is to simply say "no"when the Gabbai asks. I almost never do this. My policy is to lead prayers when asked. I don't feel right letting down the Gabbai. Also, to be asked to lead prayers is an honor given to me, and through my person, to my mother, so how can I decline? Actually, I've only said no twice, once when I was feeling sick and the other time in Israel I didn't feel comfortable with the different nusach (version of the prayers) the community used.

Another way to get out of leading prayers is to hide or feign disinterest. You can sit behind a pillar and hope the Gabbai doesn't see you until after he's chosen someone else. I don't do this, but I've seen it done. What I have done is sit toward the back, look down, pretend to read something or play with my iPhone and then hope that, by the time I look up, someone else is at the Amud (prayer stand) getting ready to lead.

The last and best way to get out of leading davening is to come late. This method works perfectly. The shul where I usually daven prides itself on its punctuality, so is not going to wait around for someone with a chiyuv to walk through the door. When it's time to daven, they begin. So if I come a minute late, I'm pretty much assured of being off the hook. (Of course, this method won't work in a small community which has trouble getting a minyan.) One time I walked through the door into shul just as the services were about to begin. As soon as the Gabbai saw me, he said "don't sit down, you're up." And so it was.

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