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Q & A: Chazzan And Congregation (Part X)


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Question: I understand that at a minyan, the chazzan is required to repeat Shemoneh Esreh out loud so that people who may not know how to daven can fulfill their obligation to daven with the chazzan’s repetition. What, however, should the chazzan do when he reaches Kedushah and Modim? I hear some chazzanim say every word of Kedushah out loud and some only say the last part of the middle two phrases out loud. As far as the congregation is concerned, I hear some congregants say every word of Kedushah and some say only the last part. Finally, some chazzanim and congregants say Modim during chazaras hashatz out loud and some say it quietly. What is the source for these various practices?

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Answer: The Shulchan Aruch Harav (Orach Chayim 124:1) explains that a chazzan repeats Shemoneh Esreh out loud to fulfill the prayer obligation of those who can’t pray on their own (see Rosh Hashanah 33b-34a).

The Mechaber (Orach Chayim 125:1) states that congregants should not recite Nakdishach [Nekadesh] together with the chazzan; rather they should remain silent and concentrate on the chazzan’s recitation until he finishes that portion, at which point they should say, “Kadosh, kadosh…” The Mishnah Berurah (ad loc. sk1) explains that congregants should remain quiet because the chazzan is their messenger, and if they say Nakdishach along with him, he no longer appears as their messenger.

The tefillah of Modim within the Amidah is so important that Berachot 21b instructs one who arrives late (after kedushah, explains Orach Chayim 109:1) to begin praying only if he will conclude before the chazzan reaches Modim. Tosafot explain that one must bow with the congregation at Modim in order that he not appear as a denier of G-d to whom they are praying (see Rabbenu Tam, Tosafot s.v. “ad sh’lo yagia…” Berachot 21b).

Rabbi Soloveitchik (as cited in Nefesh Horav by Rabbi Herschel Schachter, p. 128-129) notes that the congregation must listen to Modim of the chazzan and compares the question of what congregants should do during Modim to the question of what congregants should do during Birkat Kohanim, as discussed in Sotah 39b-40a. Rabbi Soloveitchick suggested that the chazzan recite the beginning of Modim out loud, pause for the congregants’ Modim D’Rabbanan, and then continue with his Modim blessing out loud.

Birkat Kohanim is part of chazaras hashatz but is said by kohanim (unless none are present in which case the chazzan says it). Bnei Ashkenaz in the diaspora do not have kohanim duchan other than on yomim tovim. The chazzan says it otherwise. We only answer “Amen,” however, when kohanim say it (Orach Chayim 127:2, citing the Rambam, Hilchot Tefillah 15:10). One prayer recited during Birkat Kohanim is “Ribono shel olam,” which the Mechaber (Orach Chayim 130:1, citing Berachot 55b) states should be saud by anyone who has a dream which he doesn’t understand.

We continue to discuss appropriate tefillot that can be recited by congregants during Birkat Kohanim.

* * *

We noted (see Mishnah Berurah, Orach Chayim 130:1-7) that in the diaspora bnei Ashkenaz duchan only on festivals. The Mishnah Berurah, in his Bi’ur Halacha commentary (citing Machtzit Hashekel), presents the following interesting and very relevant question. We explained last week that everyone says the “Ribono shel olam” prayer concerning dreams during Birkat Kohanim since it is impossible that one has not dreamt in the months since the last festival. However, what about the second day of yom tov which we observe in the diaspora due to s’feika d’yoma? Surely, many people do not dream the night of the first day of the festival. Why, then, should they say “Ribono shel olam” prayer on the second day if they’ve already said it on the first day? The Mishnah Berurah notes that the common practice is for everyone to say “Ribono shel olam” on the second day as well and suggests that this is perhaps because of other people who may have dreamt about us. Hence, a person should not start from the beginning of “Ribono shel olam” and say “I dreamt a dream and I do not know what it relates.” Rather, he should start from “Yehi ratzon – May it be pleasing to You that all dreams…” since this section also talks of dreams that other people may have dreamt about us.

However, I am not so sure that our accepted practice is as the Mishnah Berurah suggests. How then can we justify the accepted practice (to say even “I have dreamt a dream…”)? Perhaps the answer is: “lo plug – that the sages made no differentiation” between the first and second day of yom tov in order not to cause any zilzul (diminution) of the second day’s sanctity (see Betzah 4b).

This is the same logic underlying the recital of “Slach lanu avinu ki chatanu – Forgive us, our father, because we have sinned” on Motza’ei Yom Kippur. Can we possibly have sinned in the short period between the awesome and reverent Ne’ilah prayer and the Shemoneh Esreh of Ma’ariv? We barely had any time to breathe, let alone sin. And yet, we say “Slach lanu avinu ki chatanu” because that is the text of Shemoneh Esreh for Ma’ariv that our sages established for us and we do not deviate from it.

My friend Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Serebryanski of Canarsie, Brooklyn, made a further observation. Prior to Barechu at Ma’ariv we say, “Ve’hu rachum yechaper avon velo yashchit… – May He who is all merciful forgive all iniquity and not destroy…” Again, since we have just concluded Ne’ilah, why are we talking about our sins causing destruction? He explains that since Mashiach did not arrive even after reciting Ne’ilah, we must possess iniquities that portend our destruction. Thus, we commence Ma’ariv with, “Ve’hu rachum.”

However, this explanation leaves us with a difficulty. The Mishnah Berurah obviously knew of the Gemara in Betzah that talks of not diminishing the respect of the second day of yom tov and yet he writes that we should not say the full text of “Ribono shel olam.”

The answer would seem to be the following. There is a fundamental difference between Shemoneh Esreh and the tefillah of “Ribono shel olam.” The former is a communal prayer and its text reads accordingly (for example, “Elokeinu v’Elokei avoteinu – Our G-d and the G-d of our fathers”). The latter prayer, however, is personal and reads accordingly as well (for example, “Chalom chalamti – I dreamt a dream”). That is why perhaps the Mishnah Berurah writes that one should not say “I dreamt a dream” in the “Ribono shel olam” prayer if it is plainly untrue. Rather, one should start from the more generic, general section of the prayer that starts with “Yehi ratzon.”

(To be continued)

Rabbi Yaakov Klass, rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn, is Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at yklass@jewishpress.com.

About the Author: Rabbi Yaakov Klass, rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn, is Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at yklass@jewishpress.com.


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