Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Reb Meir of Premishlan and the Chazzan

In a town not far from Premishlan, there lived a wealthy man, who one day decided that he was going to be the chazzan (cantor) for the Yomim Noraim (high holidays) that year. Now this man had an explosive and violent temper, and all in the town were afraid of confronting him and attempting to dissuade him from this unusual decision of his. A delegation was set up, and it was decided that the issue would be taken to Reb Meir of Premishlan, who would certainly come up with a solution. A messenger was sent to nearby Premishlan, and the Rebbe sent back word that he this man would come to him on his own, and that he would deal with him personally. There was a local custom in which the chazzanim from the surrounding towns and villages would visit Reb Meir before Rosh Hashanah for a blessing of success in leading the congregation during the holy days.

And so, it was. As Rosh Hashanah approached, and Reb Meir had finished giving brachos to the local chazzanim, he was approached by the wealthy man of our story. After all, this was the custom in the area, and he wanted a visit with the tzaddik no less than anyone else.

Reb Meir said to him, "their are three types of tefilla (prayer): Tefilla le'Moshe (the prayer of Moses), tefilla le'Dovid (the prayer of King David) and tefilla le'oni (the prayer of the poor man). Now Moshe Rabbeinu was kevad pe uchevad lashon (heavy of mouth and heavy of speech), but he was our greatest prophet and the teacher of all Israel. King David was a sweet singer, and full of emotion. And the poor man is lowly and humble, and we know that G-d will look favorably on a broken and repentant heart.

"Our chazzanim," continued Reb Meir, "fall into these three categories. There are those who are not particularly musically inclined, but they are righteous and wise, so their prayers are accepted like tefilla le'Moshe. And there are those who are not quite as righteous, but they are gifted ba'alei tefilla (prayer leaders), and move people with their sweet singing. Their prayers are accepted like tefilla le'Dovid. And last, there are those who are not particularly righteous and wise, and have no affinity toward singing, but they are poor, and their hearts are humble, so their prayers are accepted like tefilla le'oni.

"And as for you," said Reb Meir," you are neither a tzaddik (righteous person), nor are you musical. And you are certainly not poor. So if you still, in fact, want to lead your congregation in prayer, you know that I will have to pray for one of these three things in heaven. Now you should know that there is no point in praying to heaven to tell them to make you a tzaddik or a good singer, just like that. The only option is that I pray to heaven that they make you poor. And that way, at least your prayer will be teffila le'oni, the prayer of the poor man."

"No, no!" said the man. "I don't want to be chazzan! I changed my mind!" And he went running out of the room.

No comments: