We didn’t appreciate the essentialness of Reb Shalom until he was no longer there
On Shabbos morning, we arrive in shul. Some of us early, and some later. We look up from our siddurim to see who’s going up for Shacharis. Later in the davening, we look up again to see who’s davening Mussaf. As men are called up for aliyos, heads turn to see who is getting shlishi and who is getting shishi. And of course, by Maftir, everyone wants to know, “Who got Maftir today?”
When fathers come home, their wives ask, “Who davened Mussaf today? Which niggun did he use for Kedushah?
I still recall how, over 20 years ago, a congregant left the shul. When I called to ask him why he’d left, he replied indignantly, “Why did you give Moishe shlishi this week and me revii when you knew my yahrtzeit was Monday and his was Tuesday?”
Woe to the rabbi who fails to remember a congregant’s yahrtzeit.
As the famous adage (sort of) goes, “Gehinnom has no greater fury than a congregant scorned.”
I am not even going to mention the rav’s derashah. That is certainly always open to debate and discussion. Did the rabbi speak too short or too long? Was his derashah original enough, or was it copied and pasted from someone else’s sefer?
Yet for all of these people who perform various tasks in the shul during the Shabbos davening, namely the baal Shacharis and baal Mussaf, the rav, and he who got Maftir, one person often gets lost in the shuffle.
This person is perhaps the most vital of all the players on Shabbos. Unfortunately, all too often he is underappreciated when he performs well, and overly criticized when he stumbles.
Too often, people take a break when he steps up to do his thing, and many other people hang on to every syllable that emerges from his mouth, ready to pounce if a word is mispronounced.
This underappreciated yet most vital person is the baal korei.
Many shuls have rotations to lein, but by us, there is one main baal korei.
When Shacharis concludes, there is an expectation that the baal korei will proceed to the bimah, and without any fanfare, begin the highlight of the davening, namely Krias HaTorah.
Unfortunately, too often, people assume that the baal korei will be on time, and no matter how long the sedra is or how difficult a week he had, he will fulfill for us our obligation to hear Hashem’s Torah. Perhaps on a good Shabbos, he receives a half-hearted “shkoyach” as he descends from the bimah.
All of this happens every Shabbos like clockwork.
Until it doesn’t.
Reb Shalom Dreyfuss was the baal korei of my shul. He leined through the entire Torah. He was the baal korei par excellence. He approached the bimah without stridency and fanfare. His leining was flawless.
When I was privileged to receive an aliyah when Reb Shalom leined, I knew I was honored to observe a master at his trade. His hand would move in perfect rhythm with his leining. His fingers moved as a baton in the hands of a maestro conducting a symphony orchestra. Every letter was enunciated, every trop brilliantly pronounced.
We didn’t appreciate the essentialness of Reb Shalom until he was no longer there.
On the 10th of Kislev, at the age of 42, Reb Shalom Dreyfuss passed away from COVID-19.
He left behind an eishes chayil and five yesomim, ages four to seventeen.
On the first Shabbos after his petirah, as the Torah was being set down, I expected Reb Shalom to ascend to the bimah. Alas, he was not there. He was leining in the Beis Haknesses Shel Ma’alah.
As tears ran down my face, I silently said, one last time, “Yasher koach, Reb Shalom.”
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 851)
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