As important as saying kaddish is, serving as the chazzan (during weekday services) is even more important for the soul of the departed. Thus, in most synagogues a mourner or someone observing a yahrtziet (anniversary of the passing of a parent or close relative) serves as the chazzan.
This morning I davened at the 6:40 am minyan at Yeshiva of Greater Washington as I was learning for an hour with a chevrusah (study partner) before starting my work day. As I was finishing putting on my tefillin, a friend, a regular at this minyan, approached me and asked if I wanted to be the chazzan. I responded yes, if there was no one else with a higher priority. He said there was not and then informed me of the pace and timing practices of the minyan; 15 minutes for pezukai dezimrah, 8 minutes for berchos krias shema etc. I listened, became a little “nervous”, and responded, “I will follow your lead.”
Traveling as much as I do I am often faced with leading the service in a synagogue which I have never before attended. It requires that I determine the nussach of that shul and ask questions before and during the service to make sure that I “get it right”. Luckily for me, I am used to being a chazzan and the challenge of a strange minyan typically does not intimidate me to the point where I decline the amud. Though truth be told in Israel I regularly did not seek the amud because I was “intimidated” by the ever changing nussach and customs. It was easier to say no then to try and figure out what to say and when to say it.
Both at home and in my travels I often encounter mourners who refuse to serve as the chazzan. They are just too uncomfortable to accept what for them is a significant challenge of leading the service. I understand how they feel but regret that they cannot take advantage of the opportunity to observe this practice of aveilus. Over the last few weeks I have concluded that it is my obligation to “do it for them”; to have them and their departed in mind when I take the amud. Another aveilus inspired opportunity to do for others.