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Sunday, 30 March 2014

What's the quickest way in and out of shul in the morning?

Sukkah 54

In the morning Shacharis service, the kaddish prayer is recited a number of times by the mourners.  The first kaddish appears about five minutes into the service and we often do not yet have a minyan present and are therefore unable to recite the kaddish at that point. 

In order to rectify the situation, at the end of the service, we learn the Life Yomi and subsequently have the mourners recite the missed kaddish.  Recently, I have begun to announce, “Sadly, we missed the first kaddish and we will say it now.” 

Why is it so sad?

The Mishnah states that the minimum number of shofar blasts in the Temple each day was twenty one.  The maximum was forty eight, which took place on Friday of Sukkot.  The Gemara points out that there seem to have been other occasions that they blew forty eight times, such as the eve of Passover.

The Passover sacrifice was offered on the 14th Nissan in three shifts.  While the first two were packed with people, the third had less of a crowd.   The Hallel prayer, which incants the praises of the Almighty, would accompany each offering.  Due to the third group’s sparse numbers, they often didn’t manage to complete their recitation of the Hallel by the time everyone had completed their sacrificial offerings.

Rabbi Yehuda says, “They wouldn’t reach the chanting of I love when G-d listens, since there were so few people.”  As a result of the shortened service, there was no need to blow the shofar over and over and therefore this occasion did not warrant forty-eight blasts.  And thus, this case is not an omission of the Mishnah.

What do you do if you’re late for davening (prayers) in the morning?  You consult the back of the Siddur (prayerbook), in order to ascertain which prayers may be skipped in order to catch up to the congregation.   Evidently, most of the Pesukei d’Zimra – the Verses of Praise of the Almighty – may be skipped over. 

The reason that our Sages gave us this list is that sometimes stuff happens and we don’t make it to shul on time.  Maybe the baby woke up just as you were leaving and needed a bottle.  Maybe there was a huge overnight snowstorm and you had to dig the car out.

But some of us get caught in a rut of coming to shul late.  We do it legitimately, once or twice.  And then the pattern of misbehaviour becomes natural.  What was once bedieved (post facto), is now l’chatchila (ab initio).  If you can get away with skipping over a few prayers and still do your duty of going to the daily minyan, then why bother getting there on time?

Rabbi Yehuda reminds us that the third group also did their duty.  But they were the procrastinators who couldn’t be bothered to get up early on the eve of Pesach to run to perform the mitzvah.  They strolled in late in the morning and did what they had to do.  But half-baked: They offered the sacrifice but didn’t complete the Hallel.  They failed to fully praise the Almighty.

No doubt some of them felt terrible and made an effort to join an earlier shift the next year.   But there were probably many others who got used to the ‘quick in and out’ that the third shift afforded them.  And it became par for the course and normal in their eyes when only a quarter of the Hallel was sung each time.

The Men of the Great Assembly arranged our prayers with great care and attention to detail.  They purposely instituted the recitation of the Pesukei d’Zimra at the beginning of the prayers, in order to impress upon us the greatness of the Almighty before we ask Him for our daily needs.  It’s not just a meaningless preamble to the primary prayers; it’s of the utmost importance.  Praising G-d, whether through the Hallel or the Pesukei d’Zimra, is paramount to our relationship with the Almighty!

And so it’s sad when we miss the first kaddish.  It means that we don’t even have a minyan of people who care enough about their relationship with G-d to praise Him the way we are supposed to.   Don’t get me wrong – I appreciate the dedication of every individual who has made the effort to come to Shacharis in the morning. 

But are you just doing your duty or are you enthusiastic about serving G-d in the most ideal manner?   Are you a third-shift procrastinator or are you jumping out of bed to praise the Holy One blessed be He?

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