Guest Posting From Chabakuk Elisha - Giving Chazzanus A Second Chance
There are many shuls where I live, and this past Shabbos I finally went to a big old shul with a silver dome on top to hear the famous cantor, Chazzan Ben-Tzion Miller. This was a big attraction in my community since it was a Shabbos Mevorchim and the chazzan says the special tefila for the new month.
While I have never listened to much chazzanus and find it to be very foreign, I was almost moved to tears by listening to this world-class chazzan recite the prayers. As a chassid who is accustomed to shteibelach and Chassidishe shuls, it was strange for me to find myself in a very large old building with a carpeted floor, old wooden pews, a domed ceiling, three huge doors from which to enter atop numerous stone steps, stained glass windows, balconies for the women, a stage with seats for the chazzan, rabbi and president (but no Rebbe).
I never thought I would find this type of atmosphere to be inspiring, but surprisingly I did. I also thought about the numerous chazzonim and shuls of this kind that once existed, and how few are left today. Will chazzanus continue, or is this a dying gasp of a no longer relevant relic?
Prayer should not be a spectator sport; prayer is about serving G-d. Prayer is personal, and should be intensely so - and it is argued that for this reason Chazzanus may be antithetical to the true intent of prayer. Nevertheless, I left the shul wondering if I was disloyal to my Chassidic allegiances - as Chassidism traditionally opposed this type of Judaism, and yet, I found it to be inspiring.
I don't know; technically Chazzanus is music, and it's purpose was to inspire the congregation. Could it be that appreciating Chazzanus today may indeed be Chassidic? As R' Hillel of Paritch taught: "He who does not appreciate and understand song, can really never understand Chassidus."