By Phyllis J. Lubin
What a wonderful holiday we had this Sukkos. The weather was practically perfect for outdoors eating. And eat we did—plenty! I don’t think I can face a stuffed cabbage for a while, and probably not turkey or veal either. I considered cereal and milk as a menu option for Shabbos (just kidding, Yussie—your favorite Shabbos potato nik just doesn’t go with this selection).
The first days of the holiday, my folks stayed in our guest room and enjoyed all the meals in our sukkah. In the morning, while I usually get to shul at a respectable time, albeit not actually on time, this yom tov I joined my husband, our two sons, and my dad before davening began to make sure my dad’s trip to shul would go smoothly. There was a lot of gear to carry besides the usual walker—lulavim, esrogim, and talleisim—and my dad could not hold everything on his lap!
What a wonderful experience that was. While the shul was less populated during the morning prayers (pesukei d’zimra), I had the opportunity to hear my youngest son’s voice loud and clear as he davened the prayers that he is familiar with. Sadly, our son Yosef cannot attend a typical yeshiva, and therefore does not have a vast formal religious training. His only formal Jewish education has been his once-a-week classes at the Chabad of the Five Towns’ Judaica Circle. These weekly classes give him a taste of the Hebrew language and alphabet and a feel for the various holidays.
The bigger portion of his Jewish education stems from his almost daily attendance in shul. Aside from camp during the summer, since Yussie began putting on tefillin this past June he has become a regular at Chabad’s daily 6:30 minyan. And his attendance in shul on Shabbos mornings goes back much further than that. He would attend minyan with Leib on Shabbos morning at 9:20, and proceed to groups at about 10. There, he not only was entertained, but was taught the Shabbos-morning davening.
This past August, Yosef Binyamin became a bar mitzvah, and as of Sukkot has decided that he has outgrown Shabbos-morning groups and has become a full-fledged member of the shul minyan.
And so, sitting in the women’s section, a significant distance away from the male Lubin/Davidson clan, I was able to hear Yussie’s voice loud and clear! Unfortunately, for the most part Yussie cannot read the Hebrew words, but he can sing along with the other shul members in a similar melody, and he looks at his siddur and tries to keep up nonetheless.
Yussie’s davening, in which he creates his own version of some of the words, reminds me of a story that I once heard about the Ba’al Shem Tov, the founder of chassidism. It is told that one Yom Kippur a poor Jewish boy, an illiterate shepherd, entered the synagogue to pray. The boy was deeply moved by the service, but was frustrated that he could not read the prayers. He started to whistle, the one thing he knew he could do beautifully; he wanted to offer his whistling as a gift to G‑d. The congregation was horrified at the desecration of their service. Some people yelled at the boy, and others wanted to throw him out. The Ba’al Shem Tov immediately stopped them. “Until now,” he said, “I could feel our prayers being blocked as they tried to reach the heavenly court. This young shepherd’s whistling was so pure, however, that it broke through the blockage and brought all of our prayers straight up to G‑d.”
There are probably times when outsiders visit Chabad and don’t understand Yussie’s special davening. Even when he speaks, at times he needs an interpreter. But I’m confident that his prayers come through to Hashem loud and clear! v
Phyllis Joy Lubin is an attorney with Maidenbaum & Sternberg, LLP, who resides in Cedarhurst with her husband, Leonard. They have six children—Naftali, Shoshana, Rivka, Rochel, Yosef, and Lea—and a daughter-in-law, Nina. The author welcomes your questions and comments at MothersMusings@gmail.com.