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Thought for the Day: The Merit and Responsibility of Being the Emissary for Communal Prayer

♫ Lashon hoRah -- lamed hey -- go to gehinnom the easy way ♫
If you haven't heard that catchy little ditty, then I guess you don't have any children in day schools.  Nowadays we are inundated with warnings and exhortations -- even on social media --  on the evil of lashon hara.  We all know -- though we don't always practice -- that  believing Lashon hoRah is forbidden even if heard from an otherwise reliable source.  (But, you'll, decry... I know he said Lashon hoRah, but this person is so trustworthy!  The Chafeitz Chaim gives a very sharp answer to that excuse: How can you possibly have any faith in someone who flagrantly ignores one of the most severe prohibitions in the Torah!?)

Yes; I am setting you up, but I am not finished yet.

Another thing: Once a שליח ציבור is appointed, you need really good reason to replace him.  You find someone with a better voice?  Nope.  You found someone just as good, but cheaper?  Nope.  His voice is faltering and he wants his son to help sometimes?  Nope.  Why not?  Because that would arouse suspicion that he was removed because of something untoward about his character.  Once he is appointed you are pretty much stuck with him.  Moreover, that halacha is not restricted to שליח ציבור.  If you always stay at a particular house when you travel to this or that town; not allowed to change for no reason.  If your community keeps its eruv in a particular house; not allowed to change for no reason.  In fact, you need very,  very strong reasons to move.  Why?  So as not to arouse suspicion that he or that house is somehow less than upstanding.

Here's one more very fundamental principle of human interaction enforced by the Torah,  This time regarding financial dispute: המוציא מחברו עליו הראיה/possession is nine tenths of the law.  (Literally: the  burden of proof falls on the one who it trying to take money from his friend.  But the English expression captures the spirit quite accurately, I think.)  For example, Shimon is moving out of an apartment owned by Naftali and now wants his security deposit returned.  Naftali has the security deposit in his possession, so it is up to Shimon -- as the מוציא/wouldbe extractor -- to prove that it is owed.  Naftali doesn't need to provide any proof; המוציא מחברו עליו הראיה.  On the other hand, if Naftali wants more money (as agreed to in the contract under the right conditions), then it would be up to Nafatali to provide proof, as he is now the מוציא/wouldbe extractor.

Ok... I think we are ready.  You will find the requirements/job description for the שליח ציבור, aka (and affectionately) ש''ץ in siman 53 of Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim.  (The placement is quite interesting; it is situated just before the rules related to ישתבח, which is also the point in the prayer service that one must actually have a prayer leader.)  It has 26 sections.  That's a lot of sections, and we are really serious about them.  One requirement is to have a beard.  Many interpret that as meaning that he needs to be able to grow a beard, not actually have one.  Others, in fact, do required the שליח ציבור to have a beard.  (One such place is a prison in New York that, to our shame, has a regular minyan of inmates.  No matter how tough you are, you can't daven from the amud their unless you have a beard.  Apparently business is one thing, religion is another for those those fellows.)

Now comes the sting.  In subsection 25 you will find the conditions for removing a שליח ציבור; basically you need witnesses to his reprehensible behavior.  The Mishna Brura (sk 78) extends that to a קלא דלא פסיק/rumour that doesn't lose steam over time.  The Biur Halacha (dh אם באו עליו עדים) notes that removing the שליח ציבור from his position often/usually means causing him a monetary loss; that is, the lost wages from losing his position.  That Biur Halacha expresses amazement that we can not only remove the שליח ציבור from his position (see above how hard that is), we can also cause him a financial loss (see above for how hard that is), and all because of nothing more than a healthy rumor.

How can we do that?  The Biur Halacha concludes that when a שליח ציבור accepts that position to be an emissary to bring our prayers before the Creator of the world, it is with the understanding that he will live a life above reproach.  A life that is so free of even the smallest hint of questionable behaviour that rumors about him can never gain any traction.  (By the way, you may want to daven at the vasikin minyan just once to experience a שליח ציבור who has held that position for 23 years, bli ayin hara, with never the slightest stirring that we want anyone else.)

Think about that.  You as an observant Jew are an emissary from the Creator of the world to the nations of the world.  Just keep that in the back of your mind (not so far back, though).


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