I realized I have the greatest of opportunities and responsibilities when standing at the Amud.
Davening from the Amud is really an entire sugya in and of itself which cannot be adequately addressed by someone like me. You need a real adam gadol for that. But the least I can do is talk about my experience at the amud and share the difference that it makes to others.
Boruch Hashem, I have been able to daven from the Amud since I was a teenager and that is how I received the bulk of my experience for weekday and Shabbos nuschaos. Of course, some shuls will never let you daven until you are married. Well, I guess now that’s also taken care of. But being able to daven as a bochur helped me build up my comfort at the amud, and that’s really helping me now as a yungerman.
One thing I can say is that you don’t know how much of a difference it makes to people to actually hear a good davening. You usually hear it from them at the end. Oh! Of course, you have critics, too. But they are merely a drop in the bucket. When people come with their feedback you mamash hear the emotion in their voices:
“Wow! It was such a beautiful davening!”
“I look forward to it every time you’re in town!”
“Thank you for the davening. It was inspiring!”
There is something special about a good davening. It simply touches everyone’s heart. And, as a baal tefillah, there is nothing more rewarding than being the one to make that happen.
One of my most remarkable experiences was when I received my very first shteller (position) for the Yomim Noraim. I was sitting in my basement apartment in Lakewood around 3 years ago (as per the writing of this article), just a mere 3 nights before Rosh Hashanah, when I received a call from a very close friend of mine.
“Moishey! Where are you davening Yomim Noraim?”
“Where I usually daven.”
“Moishey! I have the perfect shteller for you! It’s Nusach Sfard, it’s Yeshivish, and it’s in the Yeshiva’s neighborhood!”
“Dovi! I don’t know! It’s so close to Yom Tov and I’m not ready—”
“Don’t worry! Just speak to my father”— (his father was the gabbai) — “and we’ll work it out!”
I met his father the next day, was tested on different parts of the tefillah, and was accepted to be the new baal tefillah to daven Mussaf. And even despite limited preparation, the davening went successfully, Boruch Hashem.
That Chol Hamoed Sukkos, Erev Hoshana Rabba, I was singing at a Bar Mitzvah in the big Sukkah at Congregation Sons of Israel on 6th and Madison in Lakewood. The Rosh Yeshiva Horav Yerucham Olshin, shlit”a, made an end-of-the-event appearance. Those remaining formed a circle to dance with the Rosh Yeshiva, myself included (the music had already stopped). I wound up next to the Rosh Yeshiva, holding his hand in the circle. We started talking as we made our way around. I tell him my name. He suddenly exclaims: “You’re a baal tefillah! I have a friend who davened in that shul and he told me that he never heard such a davening before!”
How invigorating! The Rosh Yeshiva had given me a whole new spin on my davening. Yes, it was my first time. It was without much prep and maybe it could have sounded better. Yet, it had made someone’s Yomim Noraim, and it was worthwhile for me to hear it.
One more story to illustrate this idea.
The next year after the aforementioned story, I was by my Rebbe, the Skverer Rebbe, shlit”a, for Slichos. When it was my turn for a kvittel, I mentioned to him that I was davening Mussaf from the Amud. When he asked me how big the tzibbur was, I told him that it was a smaller crowd since most of the regulars go to daven in Yeshiva. The Rebbe smiled and said: “Nu! Every yid is an oilam mallei (an entire world).” He then blessed me that “the tefillos should be accepted lerachamim uliratzon.”
I went to the Amud that year with a little more confidence and prep than the previous year and really tried my hardest to make it a great davening.
On the second day of Yom Tov by mincha, I meet a friend of mine whose father-in-law davens in that particular shul. He pointed out to me that his father-in-law had a son who wasn’t where he should be in his ruchniyus and needed a lot of chizuk. Boruch Hashem, he made it to shul that Rosh Hashana and heard my davening.
And he did not leave. Rather he stayed and davened. He later told his father, “Tatty, I liked it.”
The Rebbe was right. Every yid is indeed an oilam mallei.