"On Rosh Hashanah, the King comes dressed in His finest. Shouldn’t we present ourselves in our finest?”
Chabad of Mid-Suffolk
Commack, New York
Rabbi Mendel Teldon
Where I grew up, we had a minyan only on Shabbos morning. Finding ten men to come daven daily was not something the local Jewish community could handle. But once a week, 15 to 20 men would come for a few hours to my parents’ converted garage.
It was a diverse group of people. Some knew Hebrew and some could barely read the English transliteration of Barechu when called to the Torah. One of the regulars was Arnie. He was from a traditional home and knew how to read Hebrew well. He even had his own unique way of singing some of the regular Shabbos tunes. Arnie always dressed sharply, and each week he wore a different fancy watch.
Once a year, our shul was relocated into my parents’ house. We carried the living room couches down to the basement and the aron kodesh across the house to the east wall of the dining room. Chairs were rented and squeezed into every crevice of the house. Tishrei was coming!
On Rosh Hashanah morning, the crowd would trickle in — people we didn’t see all year. I don’t even know how they found the place, but they would quietly take their seats, each lost in their own world.
My father stood up front, wrapped in his tallis. The chazzan sang the tunes that are now such a strong part of my childhood memories. And I would be on the side, looking around at the crowd.
There is a story told of the Baal Shem Tov. On Rosh Hashanah, the intensity of the Baal Shem Tov’s tefillos affected everyone. One year, in the middle of the tefillah, a child in the back of the shul called out, “Kuku-riku, kuku-riku.” Everyone tried to quiet him down, but the Baal Shem Tov said to leave him alone.
After davening, the Baal Shem Tov explained that this was a simple Jewish child who was raised by non-Jewish farmers. He was in the market that day, and his curiosity led him to the shul. People explained to him that everyone was praying for the New Year, but not knowing any Hebrew, this simple child called out in the only language that he knew: that of a rooster pleading for its needs. The cry of the child pierced the highest of heavens, explained the Baal Shem Tov, and shattered the decrees hovering over the congregation.
And here in our living room in Commack, Jews came together to talk to their Father about the upcoming year, each in the language they spoke.
And of course, there was Arnie, sitting up front, singing louder than the chazzan, sometimes in his own tune. And every year on Rosh Hashanah he wore a distinctive gold Rolex watch. Once, when the sound of the shofar faded away, I asked him why he wore the same watch every year.
He seemed bothered by the question. “What do you mean? It’s my most expensive watch. On Rosh Hashanah, the King comes dressed in His finest. Shouldn’t we present ourselves in our finest?”
Today, I lift my tallis over my head as the chazzan sings the same tunes I grew up with. As we daven, I think of the divrei Torah I learned in yeshivah. But at the most precious of moments, I close my eyes and think of Arnie’s warm gaze as he peered down at me with the deepest faith. And then I ask myself, am I wearing my best watch?
Rabbi Mendel Teldon is the rabbi at Chabad of Mid-Suffolk in Commack, New York.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 876)
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