In honour of our guest Chazanim, this week and in two weeks time, I want to share what I understand by this beautiful and challenging role.
There are really three terms that are used in our tradition in describing this task; Shaliach Tzibur, Baal Tefilah and Chazan. This week I will focus on the first. Shaliach – from the Hebrew term for sending, or message. Tizbur – from the Hebrew term for community. The Shaliach Tzibur is the messenger of the community. The standards of a Shaliach Tzibur are detailed in the legal codes of our tradition.
The Shulchan Arukh (basing itself on a passage in the Talmud) states;
The Shliach Tzibur must be appropriate. What is appropriate? They should be free of sin, and there must never have been ugly gossip spoken about them, not even in their childhood. They should be humble and desired by their community. They must look nice and have a pleasant voice and they must regularly read from the Torah, Prophets and Writings.
The Mishnah Brurah adds:
They should be first into the Synagogue and last out, nor should they be foolish or frivolous, rather they should be able to speak of the needs of the community.
It’s a list that is so impossible as to be almost humorous. Who could possibly cope with such a weight of expectation? ‘The Torah was not given to angels’ teaches the Talmud (Meilah 14a) in more understanding mood. An aim of perfection is a waste of breath. So it’s no surprise to see the Shulchan Arukh (following the Talmud) going on to say;
And if you can’t find one who has all these qualities, choose the best of the community in matters of wisdom and good deeds.
The point is that we should want to be represented by the best we can manage and being the best is not purely about singing prowess or even encyclopaedic knowledge of matters of ritual and liturgy. It’s about someone wise and kind and perhaps, most insightfully, ‘someone able to speak of the needs of the community.’ Rebbe Nachman of Breslav teaches that the Shaliach Tzibur has to collect up all the points of goodness in the community and array them before God. The Shaliach Tzibur has to become invested in the community as the community becomes invested in them.
As I wrote earlier this week, this is an important Shabbat for us. I urge the community to make every effort to come and be part of it; on Friday night and Sunday morning as well as, of course, Shabbat morning. Also, all are welcome at my home for the Seudah Shlishit – 5:30pm on Saturday. Then please share your perspectives on our candidates using the on-line survey, which will go live on Saturday evening, remaining open until midnight Tuesday. http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/5STQFKR