In the early 1970’s, my father, HaRav Moshe Aharon Shapiro, z”l, served as rabbi of a kosher, shomer Shabbos hotel in the Catskills. During one of those summers, my brother-in-law invited us to use his bungalow over the July 4th weekend. On Sunday we drove from the bungalow colony to visit my parents, arriving at the hotel between Minchah and Ma’ariv.
My wife and children visited my mother in the lobby, and I went to the shul where my father was giving a shiur (lecture) between Minchah and Ma’ariv. Not wanting to disturb the shiur, I sat in the back and waited for its conclusion. Immediately after the recitation of Kaddish De’Rabbanan, we began Ma’ariv.
At the end of Krias Sh’ma, the ba’al tefillah waited for the rabbi to finish before continuing. After I finished the silent Shmoneh Esrei, a young man standing next to me harrumphed, “This rav – I love him. His shiurim and drashos are excellent. But when it comes to Krias Sh’ma and Shmoneh Esrei, he doesn’t know Ivreh [how to read Hebrew]. He davens too slow!”
“Let me tell you a short story,” I rejoined.
“The rav of a large Eastern European city had passed away,” I said. “The three-man rabbinical search committee had heard of a rabbi from a distant village who [they believed] would be perfect for their city. So they traveled to the village, arriving just before Ma’ariv.
“The village rabbi’s minhag [custom] was to recite Krias Sh’ma aloud, word by word. When everyone completed the tefillah the entire congregation was silent, permitting the committee to hear the rabbi say aloud, ‘L’ma’an yirbu y’meichem vee’mei v’neichem – That your days and your children’s days be prolonged’
“The committee members were stunned. Such a brachah, given twice daily, gave them no doubt that this was their rabbi. So after Ma’ariv, they hired him on the spot – to start in two weeks.
“Two weeks later, the new rabbi arrived in the big city. At his first Shacharis service, as was his custom, he recited Krias Sh’ma aloud, word by word. But in his new shul the congregants davened faster, and finished saying Krias Sh’ma earlier.
“As the congregation became silent, they heard the rabbi saying, ‘v’charah af Hashem bachem – The wrath of Hashem will blaze against you’ ”
Being no fool, the young man said to me, “You may be right; perhaps I was davening too quickly.”
My father later told me that the young man did indeed daven slower – and with more kavanah – after this incident.