Davening in Shul or Yeshiva

For the past several years I have been davening Shabbos mornings in one of the local yeshivos. It is comfortable, quiet and my chavrusa sits across from me. Immediately after davening, we learn and I don’t have to involve myself with the inevitable politics that occurs in some shuls. My family and I are also members of a well-known and prestigious shul. The Rav is an extraordinarily respected talmid chachom and posek. The people are chashuv and menschlich. It’s also quiet and there are no disparaging conversations. However, the needs of the yeshiva are few while the needs of the shul are many. After nearly two years of the Rav saying to me with a big smile, “Come around a once in a while, we miss you,” combined with my boys’ (ten and seven) desire to attend Shabbos groups and my wife’s thirst to develop and bond with others, I relented. Considering that I am not easily persuaded about most things, my wife was shocked at how efficiently and effortlessly I began davening at our shul. Of course when the Rav finally looked at me straight in my eyes and ominously stated, “You’re making a very big mistake, ” I had little choice.

Indeed, the Rav’s statement evoked within me a stunning realization. True, it is easier and more comfortable to daven in a yeshiva, but it was all about me. My davening, my learning and perhaps most significantly, my decision whether to involve myself in whatever needs I chose, whereas davening in a shul renders involvement inescapable. Though this may explain why I began davening in my shul, it doesn’t explain the ease with which I did so. That, I believe, is attributable to the reverberation of the Rav’s words.

Nearly twenty years ago, shortly after I became observant and before I was married, my father came to spend Yom Kippur with me. After returning home, he wrote me a gut-wrenching letter in which he conveyed his feelings about my becoming observant. Having grown up in a very frum (observant) family, seeing me return to the very same beliefs and practices that my zeide so meticulously cherished and observed warmed him beyond expression. He wrote, “I now see the beauty of Yiddishkeit that he saw and tried so hard to communicate to me. You have become everything my father hoped that I would become but didn’t. My life has now come full circle. I am content knowing that you are the man he hoped I would be.” A few of years later, after having married my lovely and wonderful wife, my father joined us for davening on Rosh Hashanah. At the end of Mussaf, my father remained in his chair and began to cry. When I asked him if everything was okay, he replied, “I just realized that my father probably expected me to say Kaddish for him and worried about whether I would. I never did. Thank G-d, I don’t have that worry.” Incidentally, I’ve only seen my father cry four other times – at my zeide’s kever , at my chuppah and the brisim of my two sons.

What does this have to do with davening in a shul? Well, several weeks ago, my son brought home his “davening and bentching ” card from his yeshiva, which is intended to strengthen their daily tefillah skills. On that card, where it asked him to write in the person he most wanted to daven like, he wrote in “my father.” Imagine that. Just sitting next to me in shul has made a colossal impression on him. How then could I continue to daven someplace where he wasn’t motivated to go? Okay, so he still doesn’t always come with me and when he does, he doesn’t always daven. Of course, he doesn’t know much I continually struggle to achieve and maintain proper kavannah. But the message to me is now loud and clear. My children must see me continually involved in the community in order for it to make an impression on them. Though the list of communal needs may be endless, can you think of a more significant one to start with than tefillah b’tzibur?

While the influence exerted by my wife and my Rav made resistance futile, the magnetic energy of my children made the ride smooth. As for my father, he should live and be well until a hundred and twenty, but he can rest assured that when it does become necessary, I will say kaddish for him. And Hashem willing, I can rest assured as well.

14 comments on “Davening in Shul or Yeshiva

  1. I wanted to comment on the piece about hosting your (non-religious) father for the yom tovim. I have had a similar experience with my mother who is now (K’einahara) in her 80’s. Her parents were observant when she was young, but by the time she married, yiddishkeit was absent. I grew up in a totally assimilated home, and my siblings’ children are all intermarried. Now the tables have turned and my mother has spent a good deal of time with me in the last decade. She is the only one of my (or my husband’s) family who feels she can integrate herself into our orthodox lifestyle. Our observances remind her of her distant past, and we can see it is a sweet memory. I feel deep gratitude for having been zoche to provide her the means of sitting in a sukkah, shaking a lulav, attending full Pesach sedarim, participating in Shabbos, fast days, observing yahrtzeit properly, keeping kosher and a host of other religious occasions, which had not been a part of her life for the previous 65 years. This is a beautiful aspect of being Baal Teshuva when there is a non-frum relative, especially a parent, who will let you in.

  2. Mark and Ezzie – great dialogue. Mark, you’re precisely correct. In fact, that is exactly what really started me thinking about the Rav’s comments. A yeshiva is created from the top down. The Rosh HaYeshiva establishes the structure and hashkafah. A shul, however, is created by the klal and the Rav leads. Obviously, both need the guidance, insight and knowledge of a competent leader, either by the rosh hayeshiva or the rav, but the key is that only a chevra can generate the physical and spiritual energy necessary to thrive. The Rav then leads the way by challenging the klal to grow in observance, middos and learning. That’s why I said that the needs of the yeshiva are few whereas those of the shul are many.

    Steve, I’m so glad you said that because I decided to do just that. First of all, I still learn with my charusa in the yeshiva and I daven Mincha there. Depending on where I am for Shaloh Sheudos, I sometimes daven Maariv Motzoi Shabbos. However, I do miss the Rav’s question and answer session.

    Rachel, the davening and bentching card is simple. There are many levels begining with standard, silver, gold, platinum, etc…. On it , bochurim write down every time they daven and bentch. The idea is that they should be familiar with davening and bentching when required so that when they become a bar mitzvah, they will be capable of meticulously observing the mitzvos associated with davening and bentching. As for my son, no doubt it is in large part due to the natural inclination that sons have to want to emulate their father. But since you asked, I decided to ask him why he named me. His response was very simple. Because he likes the way I take it seriously. He knows that I don’t always do so with the proper kavanah or with the proper precision. However, he greatly respects that I repeatedly remind him not to talk during davening, krias hatorah or kaddish. Plus, he told me that likes that I always try to put forward more effort to improve on my pronunciation, comprehension and concentration.

    Ezzie, thanks for the plug. It wasn’t necessary but much appreciated nonetheless. But I don’t understand what you mean by “true justice”

  3. Ezzie – That’s part of it. That may have been what David meant when he was referring to the needs of a Shul.

    My point was that the context of a Shul is a group of friends and peers living and growing in a similiar day to day existence. When you see your friend with a similiar situation to yours working on his learning, davening or personal chesed, that’s a powerful lesson.

    A yeshiva is an intensive place of learning under the strong guidance of its Rebbeim. It has a different set of goals and methods than a Shul.

    There are many other benefits of davening in a Shul including the ones David mentioned. One other big factor is the Shul is the primary arena for personal chesed in our community.

    Of course there are benefits of davening in the Yeshiva, but in the opinion of our Rav, a Shul is the proper choice for most (if not all) Baale Batim.

  4. Ah. Though a yeshiva has its own community and structure, it’s the yeshiva’s structure and not built by the people themselves, whereas a shul requires that the people themselves help sustain and build it further. (?)

  5. Mark – understood. But why is a shul a better place for that than a yeshiva? (Perhaps this is different for me, being younger, with most of my friends still in yeshiva?)

  6. Welcome back to the community at large. A member of a Shul is part of the greater Kehilah. If one wishes he can daven at a yeshiva from time to time.

  7. Ezzie – I think that the Rav (who I’ve talked to often on this matter) believes that we have an obligation to help our friends grow spiritually as well as learn from them. Much of that interaction takes place in the context of the Shul that one davens at regularly. It’s not just a matter of which place has the best or most comfortable davening.

  8. Great post, Rabbi ;) You gave this post true justice. Maybe next time you’ll tell us HOW you became frum! :)

    I’m still not sure I understood one part, even though I find it to be true: Why is it that the Rav felt you would get more out of davening in the shul than in a yeshiva? And what do you mean ‘the needs of the yeshiva are few, while the needs of the shul are many’?

  9. One can expound with many differrent sources over wether a yeshiva or shul has greater sanctity and where one’s kavanos will be optimized. I am not sure that there is a definitive answer or that a shul is a demonstration of one’s maturity, as opposed to the youthful idealism of the Beis Medrash.

    Here is some advice from someone who has davened on a steady basis in at least two shuls on a steady basis on Shabbos and a third during the week. Davening in a shul is important for your family for sociological, etc reasons . On the other hand, why not keep your head and heart in the yeshiva by going back to daven there, even by yourself for a spiritual change of pace? I have done it occasionally over the years and I definitely notice that I walk out feeling spiritually uplifted, notwithstanding the fact that one of the shuls that we belong to ( hint !) also has great davening.

  10. Your lovely post reminded me of a conversation
    I had with the father of a friend of mine, who is himself the Rav of a local shul, but at the time was a member of another shul. I told hm I wished I could daven in a Yeshiva, but there was no local place of that ilk to go. He said in his typical sharp way, “Davening in a Yeshiva is nice wne you are a kid, but when it’s time to grow up, an adult jins a shul.” I think he was referring to your sentiments precisely.

  11. Whatever the motivation was for your “returning” to AY, we’re delighted to see you and your family again.

  12. I’m curious about that davening and bentsching card. What does it mean to daven like someone else? [I definitely see people look like they have kavana when they daven, but I never am sure if they actually have it.] Would davening like someone else give you their kavana?

    Or is this more of a speed of saying prayers, how much you say out loud, how you stand and move sort of thing?

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