The Rebbe’s Scream| September 5, 2018
The Bluzhever Rebbe did not allow seats to be assigned in his shul. “Whoever wants to come daven with me is welcome,” he would say simply
This Rosh Hashanah, my older daughters and I are davening Mussaf in shul together.
It’s a milestone of sorts. For years, my daughters and I took turns watching my younger children at home and davening in shul. This year, the younger children are suddenly grown, and we are surprised to realize that we can actually attend shul together.
We enter our shul quietly. As always when I am with my children, I have a heightened awareness of my surroundings. Today, as if for the first time, I notice the moldings, high ceilings, and seats affixed with neatly typed name labels. We quickly find our places. Soon enough, the chazzan begins, voice clear and confident.
We reach the awesome tefillah of Unesaneh Tokef. And suddenly, the new and beautiful shul I’m in fades away. Instead, I find myself back in Boro Park, back in Bluzhev, the shul I davened in as a kid. The Bluzhever Rebbe, Rabbi Yisroel Spira ztz”l, would be leading this special tefillah.
The shul is in the Rebbe’s house, where the air of siddurim and talleisim is infused with the aroma of the Rebbetzin’s kugel. Home and holiness meshing into one. I am standing upstairs in the Rebbetzin’s dining room together with the overflow of women from downstairs. The Rebbe did not allow seats to be assigned in his shul. “Whoever wants to come daven with me is welcome,” he would say simply.
Indeed the beis medrash was packed with people who came, so the Rebbe could daven with them and for them. In the carpeted dining room there is a trapdoor that opens to a grated hole in the floor, enabling the sound from the men to rise.
The Rebbe begins Unesaneh Tokef in his slow, melodious voice. When the Rebbe reaches the word emes he pauses. Then he screams “Emeeees!” stretching out the word, screaming emes with every fiber of his being. As a child it’s a shock to hear the gentle Rebbe scream like that. Goosebumps prickle on my neck. I shudder.
In the years since the Rebbe has left This World I’ve davened in many other shuls. And every year, deep within, I brace for that scream, but it never comes. I’ve never heard a chazzan emphasize that word — let alone yell it.
Over the years, I’ve had time to ponder. Why? Why did the Rebbe scream? Why emes?
Was the yell from fear? The holy fear of emes, the essence of Rosh Hashanah. Emes! The One Whose signature is truth and Who knows the deep-down truth of all of us, judges us: How much do we do? How hard do we try? How much do we care?
Was it a pleading, demanding scream that Hashem bring on the End of Days, when the emes will be revealed? The day when Hashem will bring retribution on our enemies. The Rebbe, who survived the slaughter of his kehillah and lost his only daughter and grandchild, never to bear his own children again. Was the Rebbe screaming for this?
I open my eyes and I’m back in the beautiful shul, my daughters by my side. My ponytailed girls hold their new ArtScroll machzorim and follow the chazzan smoothly. The chazzan’s voice is young, and the acoustics magnify his voice.
In Bluzhev I struggled to daven. It was a strain to hear the chazzan’s voice and it was so confusing. I never knew when to stand or sit, when to say amen. In the Rebbe’s later years, when he was weak and frail, it was impossible to hear anything even though it was pin-drop quiet. The only word we could still hear from him was his now faint scream of e-m-e-s.
The Rebbe lived to be very old. So it was many years that his scream was faint. But it was strong enough for me to hear it then and powerful enough for me to hear it now. Year after year I can still hear the Rebbe’s voice.
And I tremble still from the Rebbe’s emes.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 608)
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