Wednesday, March 30, 2011


On Yom Kippur one year the services were going swimmingly. So splashy were they (in the Lipa sense) that the Rabbi was sufficiently moved to loudly declare, "Oh G-d, you are so great, and I am nothing!" The entire congregation was duly impressed by their Rabbi's pronouncement, and commenced to pray with renewed concentration and vigor. Seeing the stir that the rabbi had caused, the cantor raised his voice and proclaimed, "Oh L-rd who dwells most high, and I am but dust and ashes!" The entire congregation was once again moved at this great show of piety, and their tears rent the very heavens with their intense sincerity.

The president of the shul was aroused by these two expressions of humility, and when he sensed an appropriate time in the liturgy he lifted up his voice and said, "Almighty G-d, how can I pray to you, I who am less than the most insignificant flea!"

The Rabbi turned to the cantor with a sneer and said, "Look who thinks he's a nothing."
Cute, eh? The question occurred to me, as I thought upon this joke, who would be the funnier third caller, the president of the shul or the gabbai? After all, the president is the boss of the rabbi and the cantor, so naturally there'd be some friction in that direction. Usually, that friction is born of religious matters, and so when the president proclaims his religious devotions there's bound to be cynicism on the part of the religious leaders. Another explanation could be that the president of a synagogue is normally its most prestigious member, and so his religious protestations could be interpreted as a "keeping up with the Joneses" type thingamajiggie.

But then we come to the humble gabbai. Or maybe even the shammes? Both are truly nothings, hounded by administration and congregants alike, the traditional butts of much Jewish humor. In this case, the rabbi and cantor are somethings who proclaim their nothingness, but the nothing? He can't proclaim it, because who does he think he is?


Yossi said...


The Real Shliach said...

That's what comes of typing on an iPod on the subway.

e said...

Hee hee. I like the TRS-speak.

What's the Lipa sense of splashy?

sarabonne said...

Noice noice, very noice. I liked the last bit.

Leo de Toot said...

Dear Mr. R.S.
Once again you have managed to elicit contemplation of a major psychological/sociological phenomenon - individual humility and the validity thereof. Frightening to think that our deepest thoughts are merely the products of the moment. Regardless, I agree with your suggestion. I think the better version of the joke would be the Rabbi and President versus the Gabbai or shammes. (Cantors don't seem to get much respect - not smart enough to be rabbis - like dentists: Jewish boys who couldn't get into medical school.)
Your humble servant, Leo de t.

The Real Shliach said...


Sara: Many thanks. Which last bit?

LdT: Oh, I always thought dentistry was the only socially acceptable form of sadism open to Jews.

But yes, humility is a difficult subject- there are some good Maamarim on the subject.

e said...

So it's the title of a song? Of this I was unaware.

sarabonne said...

last bit=last paragraph

The Real Shliach said...

e: Well, now you know.

Sara: Ahh.

Mr. Cohen said...

If you think that a gabbai is nothing, then try being an assistant gabbai.