September 2, 2014 – 7 Elul 5774

Our tradition instructs that “getting the amud” i.e., serving as the chazzan (cantor) leading the davening, is of greater significance for the departed than then the saying of kaddish. During shloshim (the first thirty days of mourning) it is easy to lead the service because a mourner at  the beginning of his mourning period has priority over all others. After the first thirty days it can be hit or miss depending on where you are davening and who else is present.

While in Israel this past month I rarely served as the chazzan; partly because the opportunity was not available and partly because I did not seek the amud. Quite frankly, I was “intimidated” by the many different nuschaos hatefilah (versions of the prayer service), versions of the kaddish itself and the many different customs of when to say kaadish. I never knew exactly when and what to say kaddish so I avoided serving as chazzan except in a few instances at the Kotel where I was able to organize an “American minyan”.

Now that I am back home I have encountered a new “obstacle” to my “getting the amud” – new aveilim in shloshim who by right have priority over me. The introduction of others with a newer loss than mine and with the priority that goes with it, has shed light for me on the ever present cycle of life and death. “Dor holeach v’dor ba”. “A generation leaves and a generation arrives”.

It is natural to be focused on one’s own life experience; to view the events of one’s life as unique, as individual. “My” losses, “my” suffering are “mine” and so they are uppermost in my conscious of primary focus and concern. One loses sight of others  and what they are going through. One fails to pay sufficient attention to others who are also suffering perhaps to the same degree and perhaps to greater degree; perhaps suffering a similar loss or a more painful loss; perhaps with the same difficulty or a more significant difficulty and maybe even a  tragedy. Having to step aside and allow others to “get the amud’ is a vivid reminder to me of how one’s life must be lived in the context of  and with concern for the lives of others.

In the months since I began saying kaddish, kaddish started with the uniquely personal loss of my mother a”h. While that remains and will always remain the primary purpose for my saying kaddish, my reciting of kaddish has expanded in purpose as events in Israel developed over the last several months. My new found “difficulty” in “getting the amud”, even at home, is yet another lesson in the need to share in the suffering of others. While I still have a priority over many, those with newer losses and fresher pain come first. My loss and my pain have a place in this world; but they do not occupy the world.

This is a life lesson and one particularly appropriate for the month of Elul.

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