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Sunday, June 11, 2006

Minyan Man

At the kiddush this Shabbos, one of the rabbis came up to me and asked how I was handling the minyan schedule. I answered him, half-jokingly, with the truth.

"It's been grueling," I told him. "I'm exhausted. My whole day revolves around the minyan schedule. I mean, I haven't had time to play video games and I haven't watched TV in a month."

I realize that this will not engender much sympathy from those of you who somehow have already been managing to make it to minyan two or three times a day. But this is really new for me. Yes, I've been in the morning minyan before, and yes, I sometimes make it to mincha/maariv at night. But somehow always there was this knowledge in the back of my mind that if I couldn't make it one day, no big deal.

All that has changed. I feel trapped by the minyan schedule right now. When I took my wife out for our anniversary (just for a drink, and I drank Pepsi), we left after mincha at the kollel and I had one eye on my watch the whole time so I wouldn't miss the 9:45 maariv. I haven't missed a single service since my father's funeral. I would sooner skip a meal than miss a minyan at this point.

And this is not me. My M.O. has always been to get there late and leave early. Now I'm getting there early and leaving late. I'm in the shul at 5:40 a.m. and I leave the kollel after maariv at 10:10 p.m. And somewhere in the middle I chap a mincha. And I can't be late, because I need to lead the service. And I have to stay to the bitter end, to catch that last kaddish. I'm exhausted.

And yet, I don't seem to mind so much. I'm getting into it a little. I've never been one to covet the amud, but I really look forward to getting up there and leading the davening. And I find myself cherishing each and every Kaddish. If we have to skip one, because we don't yet have 10 guys in the room, I really feel disappointed.

I don't know exactly what it is. I'm not alone, I know. People who have lost parents take this very seriously. People who have been lax about their davening and their attendance suddenly turn themselves around and buck up. Maybe it's because it's not only about one person any more. Now I'm davening for two. There's another soul involved here, and I have a responsibility to that soul that sacrificed so much for me, and who made it a point to tell me when I was eight years old that "a boy needs to go to shul."

The rabbi told me about his father-in-law. He said that when his father-in-law was in mourning for his own father, he too started to attend minyan much more punctually and regularly. He pointed out that his father was able to accomplish something in death that he was never able to accomplish in life: to get his son to show up to shul on time.


Nati said...

I remember my father experiencing this phenomenon years ago when was saying kaddish for his mother. That frantic, frenetic sense of punctuality, as well as a newfound sense of connectedness to the klal/community have stayed with him to this day.

jaime said...

Could you give some background for those who don't know, information on what Kaddish and a Minyan is and why it is important to be there or lead it.


Kiwi the Geek said...

Ooh, ooh, I know this one! Well, a little bit at least. When a Jewish person dies, their son has to say this prayer, kaddish, every day for eleven months. I think it's sorta like Catholics praying their loved ones out of purgatory. In order to daven (pray), there have to be a minyan (quorum) of men. There are certain prayer times called mincha and maariv and all that. I dunno why PT has to lead anything; I never heard that part.

torontopearl said...


Does life just continue to be full of uncanny coincidences, or is this post in answer to the question I posed to you, about saying Kaddish, in an email -- about half an hour before you posted this?

Your father's neshama should have an aliya, Mark. I'm sure that he was most proud of what that eight-year-old boy in shul has become...!

XVI (R) - NY said...


I cant relate to your struggle as Im honestly not all that careful with minyan myself. When my grandfather passed away a few years back though, I specifically remember my uncle, who couldnt be bothered with such things, shlep himself every morning (granted, it was to the 9:00AM "express" minyan) and he hasnt missed a minyan yet, 5 years later.

A beutiful book I read, by a pretty unobservant guy from what I gather, is aptly named "Kaddish" by Leon Wieseltier. He relates a simialar story to yours and the book is basically a chronicle of his (exceptionally emtional) insights and studies into kaddish and what it did for him and his relationship to his late father. Its a touching and wonderful read and Im sure you can relate.

May your fathers neshama have a tremendous aaliyah from your efforts.

PsychoToddler said...

nati: I'd like to think that the momentum will carry me through and keep me going after my 11 months. Momentum is everything. It makes the world go round. Literally.

Jaime: Answers.com has a nice explanation here. Kaddish is an "aliyas neshama", and it's thought that every time you say it, some of the departed one's suffering is removed.

Kiwi: Holy Cwap! Credit the blogosphere for allowing a Christian to explain Jewish ritual to a Jew.

The reason it is preferable to lead the service is that there are kaddishes that are embedded in the service that are considered the important ones. The "mourner's kaddish" is an extra kaddish added later to allow those who can't lead the service to say kaddish too.

TP: To be honest, I don't know what my dad would make of this. As much as he wanted me to be comfortable in shul, he was never one to show up on time or enjoy the services. In part this is a healing process for me too.

xvi r etc: welcome and thank you for your thoughts.

The honest truth is that, all these months, as I've anticipated my father's death, the thing that I was dreading the most was this minyan obligation. I didn't know how I would do it and round in the hospital, or get to work on time, or find time to give the PT her bath, etc. I'm still not sure how it's going to work. I worry that when we start to say slichos it will all fall apart (I'm barely making it to work on time now).

tuesdaywishes said...

My hubby is almost finished with the 11 months of Kaddish for his dad. To my knowledge, he has missed one Mincha and one Ma'ariv (on the same day, it happened because of the clock change and his schedule at Hebrew School.) I think he has a real sense of accomplishment over this. Maybe it is also a "tikkun", a correction in the universe, since his father, though a great and very religious man, often prayed at home alone.

Kaddish really connects you up to the community, especially if you travel. You can't plan an all day trip without knowing where you will be at sunset, or an overnight one without knowing where you are spending the night and what time the local minyan is in the morning.We will never pass through Buffalo, Rochester, Binghamton, Scranton or especially Syracuse without remembering the kindness and hospitality of their congregations.

Jack's Shack said...

It sounds like you are really getting something from this and to me that is important.

To work so hard and not feel anything, well that would be a shame.

PsychoToddler said...

Tuesday: Wow, has it been that long? Seems like just yesterday...

You make a good point--I definitely feel more connected to the community, and I was already pretty connected to begin with. Travel will be interesting.

Jack: I do feel good about it. Also very tired.

essie said...

I have heard the same senitiments from others who also had to say kaddish for a parent. Hatzlacha with making minyan. I'm sure your father is very proud.

kasamba said...

Ditto Ezzie!

jaime said...

How many times is the Kaddish said during services? I know there is a time that everyone stands and joins in and a time that only those who are mourning stands up. Is this correct? My father and I always stood during Mourners Kaddish for many years after my mother died.

jaime said...

I also find the explanation for the differences in mourning a child versus a parent fascinating and beautiful.

Would someone care to explain the difference?

Sorry PT, but as long as we are on the subject, it can be educational to us uninform Jews/non Jews. Yes?

PsychoToddler said...

Jaime: Kaddish is said multiple times depending on the prayer. Major portions of the service are separated by a Full Kadish, and smaller sections by the half-kaddish (follow the link above for some nice articles on kaddish).

In Orthodox shuls, everybody stands for every kaddish.

In Nusach sfard, which is used by my current shul, there are A LOT of kaddishes at the end of the service. It used to annoy the heck out of me. It seemed like they tacked on an extra 10 minutes of kaddish at the end of davening. Of course, now, I have a slightly different perspective on the matter...

Jaime, I can't answer the question about mourning a child. Thankfully, I have not had to deal with this. There are quite a few in the J-blogosphere who have, though, and I'd love to have their perspective on the matter if you want to ask them.

I have found that people are quick to forget the parts of the mourning ritual that no longer apply to them. I was visited by many people who had lost parents when I was sitting shiva, and I asked them all kinds of questions, and most told me something like, "you, I just don't remember what we did." I think people want to forget. I read about mourning a child only a few weeks ago, but I can't remember what the details were.

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

In Orthodox shuls, everybody stands for every kaddish.

Only Ashkenazic ones. Other Jewish cultures sit for them.

Kiwi the Geek said...

Yes Jaime, it's very educational. I pester PT with questions all the time. Speaking of which, neshama? Aliya? I thought aliyah meant moving to Israel?

Doctor Bean said...


These folks sometimes forget how to speak English.
neshama = soul
aliya literally means raising or being elevated, so it's used for moving to Israel but also for the elevation of one's soul to heaven.

Kiwi the Geek said...

Thanks, Dr. Bean. Now I can reread some of the above comments and understand them. ;o)

Didja see my heblish on the post about layning? With that and the above explanation of kaddish, I'm practically an expert!

Kiwi the Geek said...

After pondering all this, I have two questions. You may want to post the second on Jewish Connection. I'm probably opening a great big can of worms.

Why does a person suffer after death even if they were an observant Jew?

Reading the explanation of Kaddish and how it developed, I'm reminded of how Judaism keeps evolving over the centuries. As some have pointed out, it's more about customs than beliefs. So if your religious practices today are so different from 3000 years ago, which are right? Was King David closer to God's intent because he was closer to the source (Moses) or are you today closer to the truth because God is influencing the development of the religion?

PsychoToddler said...

Steg: True. Even the Nusach Sfard shuls I go to are really Ashkenazi.

DB: Welcome back. Thanks for the help, as usual.

Kiwi: Yes, we are ALL very impressed. Etc.

I found another, more concise explanation of Kaddish and the suffering of the soul here. I don't think anybody KNOWS what goes on after death. It's all mysticism and custom. But I'd like to think that the Kaddish is serving some purpose other than just making me feel good.

With regards to practice now versus then...I think one of the tenets of Orthodox Judaism is to change as little as possible. That's why we're still walking to shul and not tearing toilet paper. Hopefully, the tfillin that I put on now is the same as it was thousands of years ago. But there's no way of truly knowing. We do have this unbroken chain of "mesorah" of one generation passing on to the next. But you've played the telephone game, haven't you?

Ralphie said...

PT - a big yasher koach to you. Also, a nice, hearty one to Mrs. B - a man (especially one with little kids) can't make it to minyan without an extremely supportive wife.

Kiwi - There is definitely a sense in Jewish trasition that each generation is just a teeny bit more removed than the last. For example, in the Talmud, when there are two contradicting opinions, one from an earlier generation takes precedent. However, each generation is also commanded to listen to the rabbis of their generation, so if it were possible to fulfill all current rulings and regulations, one would be practicing Judaism as authentically as, say, someone in the generation of Moses (who is not the source, by the way... that'd be the Big Guy Upstairs).

As for suffering after death, even the most observant Jews have their shortcomings...

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


Especially Nusach Sfard shuls are Ashkenazi. Nusahh "Sfard" is an invention by the early Hasidic movement. They were trying to reconstruct R' Yitzhhaq Luria's mystical composite prayer text by grafting together Ashkenazic and Sefaradic texts. Real Sefaradi is very different than Pseudo-Sfard.

tuesdaywishes said...

On the issue of whether things have changed much in 3000 years, the archeological evidence is that they haven't. When I was at the Shrine of the Book in Israel, I saw tefillin from the Qumran community, more than 2000 years old. Same writing and same words as we use today. The famous Isaiah Scroll from Qumran, also nearly exact. The Leviticus scroll found om Masada is identical with our current text. There are lots more examples...

As for customs and practices that have evolved, such as the saying of Kaddish, the history is pretty easy to trace, thanks to Jews putting everything in books. Also, as communities moved around, letters were sent from the newer places to the older ones, often with questions about ritual matters. So the documentation exists, for those who choose to go looking for it. (The rest of us can just read Encyclopedia Judaica.)

Kiwi the Geek said...

I have no doubt that the texts and ritual items are exactly the same as 3000 years ago. Maybe it's an error in my understanding to think that the customs have changed, but that's been my understanding from all I've read here and elsewhere. As Ralphie points out, the rabbis of each generation add to and refine the rules. Maybe people who die suffer in part because of rules that haven't been made yet, but ignorance is no excuse? Just a thought.

About changing customs: Answers.com said the kaddish thing had developed during the Babylonian exile, so what happened to the neshamas of those Jews before? Was kaddish less necessary because Jews were more obedient in earlier generations, or was God developing the religion to become closer to the goal?

When I referred to Moses as the source, I meant because he was the messenger who brought God's laws to the Israelites. Obviously God designed the system. You are talking to a Christian, after all. ;o)

jaime said...

Thanks for all the input.

Dr. Bean - I think Kiwi was refering having an aliya in shul. Am I correct to say that that's when you are called to read from the Torah, or is it when you partake in opening up the ark and removing the torahs? It's a special honor to have an aliyah - correct - as in going up in life? (which is the same as immigrating to Israel.)

As for Kaddish, I am so confused as to why you say it so many times, but then again, the same prayers always seem to be repeating themselves. As for the Mourner's Kaddish - it said in Answers.com that it is a Sefardim tradition for those who are mourning to stand only. But the shuls I belonged to were ashkenazi - both reform and conservative, and you stood only if you were mourning or had lost someone but not neccessarily recent.

As for the differences between a child and a parent - I believe I remember that with a child you mourn for a month and parent for a year. Because as adults we tend to not be as close to our parents or have the same respect for them, as our children, we mourn them longer to bring us closer - does this sound familar?

socialworker/frustrated mom said...

Good for you, sorry you see it as stressful. May this be your worst problem. I am not minimizing at all don't think I am.

Tzipster91 said...

That's why the alarm clock was invented.

One of my teachers showed us this really neat thing about how mathematically the tradition could be passed down over thousands of years with only about 40 people talking to each other.

Kaddish is a reaffirmation of God's holiness, greatness, and power over the world. One of the reasons that mourners say it is to show that even though they went through this trauma and suffering, they are still acknowledging God as the Creator of the universe.
The merit of the recitation of Kaddish is believed to assist the soul of the departed. (Older brother's over-the-shoulder input)

May his neshama have an aliya.

PsychoToddler said...

Thank you, Tzippy (and Yisroel Mordechai).