May 28, 2024
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May 28, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

For the past 15 years, I’ve been davening on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur at a vasikin minyan, which is my teshuvah for what time I wake up for Shacharis the rest of the year.

I also happen to be the gabbai pesichos. The rav, who is also the chazzan, chose me the very first year because he was looking for someone to do it (he couldn’t very well be the rav and the chazzan AND the gabbai pesichos), and I was standing closest to him.

But I take the job very seriously. It’s not really a big minyan, mostly because of how early it is, and there are about 60 pesichos to go around, so everyone gets pesicha, some people more than once. It’s an equal-opportunity pesicha minyan. It’s not a big enough minyan that I get to give it to whoever’s most chashuv, and it’s not really my place to decide who’s the most chashuv. It’s Rosh Hashanah. This is not the time to judge people.

So, for example, I give it to people who are new to the minyan, to say, “Welcome to the minyan! Have a pesicha.” Frankly, most of them are surprised to even get it, and they’re like, “No, no. There are way more deserving people than me. I wouldn’t even know what to do.”

Um, it says in the machzor. You just open the Aron. It’s not like pesicha on a regular Shabbos, where you have to stand there and figure out which Torah to take out based on 38 people’s frantic hand signals.

But this brings me to another issue, which is that we daven in a venue that’s wider than it is deep. Technically, we daven in someone’s dining room/living room/kitchen/entranceway/front porch. My point is that, to get to the people I want to give pesicha to, I have to squeeze through the crowd, and plan my routes around the people who are still davening.

So thanks. You saying, “No, no,” to be nice makes my work twice as hard, because now I have to either find someone in this immediate area, or I have to plunge back across the shul to find someone else.

But Mussaf of Rosh Hashanah is the biggest challenge, because I can’t talk, because of shofar. So how do I get people up there? Do I walk them? Do I point at the Aron and hope they get it? Do I point, and then mime opening a curtain and a set of doors? And why is it that every time you ever try to mime opening a set of doors, you have to lean back, so your imaginary doors don’t hit you?

So what I generally do is I have an Artscroll Machzor™. I show someone the page, and I point to the words, “The Ark is opened,” and I point to him, and then I point back to the words, “The Ark is opened.” And then I wait for it to register.

Usually, he smiles and nods. Though I don’t know if that means anything. A lot of times they nod, and then I go back to my seat, and when pesicha comes along, they’re nowhere to be found.

So maybe I should give out those pesichos before Mussaf, right? No dice. When I give it out even a few minutes too early, people miss their cue. Never mind if I give it out before Mussaf altogether.

And I don’t blame them. I forget pesicha during the year. Whenever I get pesicha for leining, I open the Aron and take out the Torah, but then, after leining, when they’re ready to put it back, suddenly everyone stops and waits, and I’m like, “What are we all waiting for? Oh.”

So my goal is to give out any given pesicha as close as possible to when they have to do it. But then people miss it, because they count pages and forget that half of them are in English, and a lot of it are small words that the shul doesn’t say. Or, sometimes, they wait a couple of minutes to start coming up, but they can’t get through the crowd in time, nor can they say, “Excuse me,” and it turns out they didn’t factor in travel time. And everyone’s staring at the Aron, waiting for it to open by itself, apparently, because they’re standing smack in the way of the guy who’s trying to get through to open it. Whom they can’t see coming because they’re staring at the Aron. Like someone’s going to open it from the inside.

It’s tough. This is what I think about during Chazaras Hashatz. Instead of spacing out.

But seriously, what do I do?

Well, I’ve been doing this for 15 years. I’ve tried some things. Tune in next week to find out what they were.

Mordechai Schmutter is a freelance writer and a humor columnist for Hamodia, The Jewish Press, and, among others. He also has four books out and does stand-up comedy. You can contact him at [email protected].

By Mordechai Schmutter

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