Some years ago, I was on vacation in Israel in a rented apartment not far from Me’ah She’Arim. Anyone familiar with that area knows of the multi-minyan shul called Toldos Aharon, where you can catch a Shacharit minyan every 15 minutes between 6 and 11 a.m. Virtually all minyan attendees wear some version of Chasidishe garb. One fine Monday, I went to a minyan there dressed in my polo shirt and casual slacks to daven, and basically to be left alone. Not surprisingly, out of about 30 men, I was the only one dressed in that (non) fashion.
Minding my own business and sitting in the back row, I was doing my own thing when the minyan got to Krias HaTorah (reading of the Torah). Suddenly the gabbai asked in Yiddish and Hebrew whether anyone there knew how to lein. Although I am a rather proficient baal koreh, I did not respond. I figured someone dressed more appropriately could fulfill the gabbai’s request. Three more times the gabbai asked, pleading for someone to lein. Nobody stepped up. Finally, this “shaygetz” sitting in the back wearing a polo shirt stepped forward and said, “I can lein.” They looked at me almost suspiciously, but having no choice allowed me to lein. After a flawless performance numerous men approached me admiringly and gave me a hearty “shkoyach.” It felt good to be so appreciated by people who didn’t know me and didn’t initially believe I could get the job done.
The lesson here is that leining, like any other skill, can be learned by almost any boy or man, and you never know when you might be the only one in a situation who can do it. Over the years, I have taught numerous boys how to lein, in most cases teaching them their bar mitzvah sedra or part of it. The look of satisfaction on the child’s face as he is “performing” the task he worked so diligently to prepare and study is so rewarding, mostly for the child and his family, but also for his teacher.
Preparing to lein for a bar mitzvah is a long-term, arduous project. The 12-year-old typically begins the process not believing that he can perform the difficult task of reading without vowels and memorizing the trop (cantillation) from a sefer Torah in nine or 10 months. But gradually, as he practices and is taught various techniques, his confidence begins to grow. And what started out as an intimidating idea begins to become increasingly real in his mind.
As with any other subject, the rule of Chanoch L’naar al pi Darko applies here as well. Every child is different and must be tutored accordingly. As a tutor, it is vital to understand and know what motivates a child, his degree of musicality and his capacity for absorbing the text and trop. It is critical to determine very early whether the child is more comfortable with Ashkenazic or Sephardic pronunciation. The teacher, the parents and the prospective bar mitzvah boy are all on the same team, and the child must be aware that help will come from all these sources.
What a wonderful way for any soon-to-be teenage boy to see a long-term project through, which began as a virtually impossible assignment as he envisioned it, and on the big day culminates with a near flawless job. The feeling of accomplishment for the bar mitzvah boy could well be his most treasured bar mitzvah gift. He intuits that he will never forget it, and that it will serve him through life knowing he can accomplish virtually any formidable project. His self-confidence skyrockets. And besides, he never knows when he may be the only one in a minyan who can go up to the bima and lein, surprising and impressing everyone with his hidden skill!
David Hes is a longtime Teaneck resident and bar mitzvah teacher and can be contacted at [email protected] or 201-294-3258.