After an interesting e-mail correpondance, I wanted to share the following guest post:
After several years of a deepening interest in Chassidus and of living in a community where most people daven Nusach Sefard, I have long meant to change my minhagim.Picture courtesy of Tully Filmus. Click here to get Dixie Yid in your e-mail Inbox or here to subscribe in Google Reader.
The nusach and the minhagim of Ashkenaz have been both uncomfortable and more comfortable for me. Uncomfortable because as I have learned more Chassidus and lived for several years in a place where the nusach and minhagim of Sefard are the norm, I identify with the nusach and the minhagim of Sefard as being more appropriate for me. And this is true for social reasons as well, because keeping minhagei Ashkenaz puts me in a position where I am performing different minhagim than those around me.
However, the minhagim of Ashkenaz are also more comfortable to me for several reasons. The first is that Ashkenaz was the way I have done it from the time I became religious about 15 years ago, so I am more familiar and comfortable with it. I can easily bentch or daven in Nusach Ashkenaz by heart (notwithstanding the fact this this is not necessarily a good thing...). The other thing I like better about Ashkenaz is that virtually everything in davening is shorter. There are no Korbanos before mincha, no Shir Hama'alos before Ma'ariv, no extra paragraphs in P'sukei D'Zimra, no vidui before Tachanun, and no Ein Keilokeinu/Ketores after Ashrei/U'va'l'tziyon.
Knowing all of this I was very hesitant to switch to the minhagim and Nusach of Sefard. Once one goes there, there's no going back. It's a big commitment and I did not want to make that change unless I knew that I could stick with it.
Before going further, I should mention that I discussed this issue with my Rav about three years ago, and while not advising me to make the change, he certainly gave me permission to do so and gave me some guidance about how to handle certain practical and halachic issues relating to the big switcheroo. So there was no issue for me as to whether there was any technical issur in making that change.
But the main reason I was hesitant to make the change had to do with the fact that the importance of my external minhagim pales in comparison to the importance of my internal level in ruchnius, in the level and character of my deveikus with Hashem. I actually felt completely unworthy of taking on a "holier" type of minhag-set when I knew about myself that I was clearly not holding there. It would have felt fake and phoney to take on a Chassidish set of minhagim if my inner life was so far from what I felt Nusach Sefard minhagim stand for.
For instance, I did not come to minyan on time generally, and I thought that it would be quite absurd to trade a Nusach Ashkenaz P'sukei D'Zimra that I (mostly) wasn't saying for a Nusach Sefard Psukei D'Zimra which I also (mostly) wouldn't say.
And generally, I just felt that I was not "on the level" to keep those "holier" minhagim. So my thinking, over several years, was that after I continued learning and growing for a while, and felt like I could keep those minhagim with a feeling of consistency and when I had the "moral standing" to do so, then I would make the change.
But as I thought about this issue over Yom Kippur, I once again asked myself the same questions about why I didn't change over already, and I gave myself the same answers I always gave myself, which I mentioned above. And then I began to see the absurdity of my situation. Part of this had to do with reading the following story about Rav Saadia Gaon in my (Nusach Ashkenaz) Artscroll Machzor (p. XVII):Rav Saadiah Gaon once told a talmid the following story when asked why he was constantly doing teshuva: He once traveled to an inn, where he was not recognized by the innkeeper as the great Saadia Gaon, but was treated respectfully as any guest would have been treated. After observing the throngs coming to see the Rav the next morning, the inkeeper came to Saadia Gaon in tears, asking his forgiveness. The Rav replied that he had done nothing wrong. But the innkeeper responded that although that may be true, if he had only known who his guest was, he still would have treated him differently. The Gaon explained the mashal to his student, that he too felt obligated to appologize for his spiritual level the day before. Even though he may not have done any technical sins the previous day, his understanding and level in avodas Hashem is higher today than it was yestereday. Therefore, he must do teshuva every day for how low his level in avodas Hashem was the day before. (DY: For more on this topic, see here.)I was bothered after reading this story. Not only am I not growing "michayil el chayil" as time goes on, I am going in the opposite direction! I am lower now than I was when I first became religious (relative to who I should be now based on my experience and knowledge)! When will I get to the basic point every Jew should be at where he is becoming a better person, year after year, at least by a little bit!?
Old age is supposed to be the highest point in life, where I will reach the apex of my life in terms of ruchnius and Torah knowlege. But how do I think that I will ever get to that point if I am constantly regressing every year?! I've been religious for over 15 years now... How long exactly do I plan to procrastinate actually growing as a Jew??? Will I always say to myself that I may not be who I should be now, but one day I will be? Well when exactly will that "one day" come??? Dai! It's enough procrastinating already!
Since this thought process started by asking myself (again) why I wasn't yet switching to minhag Sefard, I went back to that question. Why won't I switch to Nusach Sefard? Because I'm waiting to be on the level to be "worthy" of taking on those minhagim. Well, "im lo achshav, eimasai?!" "If not now, when?" I'm certainly not getting any younger!
So I made the following cheshbon. Every year I have to take on some new thing. So for this year, let me make some change that will bring me at least one step closer to where I was 15 years ago and IY"H one day I can surpass that point and become a real Jew. So this year my kabala will be to change my minhagim to Nusach Sefard and to come to davening on time or early so that I will at least have enough time to sayh the longer davening properly (a big kabala, I know).
My cheshbon was that these two changes would have the following (more penimius'dik) effects:
So I davened Ma'ariv Motza'ae Yom Kippur Nusach Sefard. The next day I began wearing a gartle and even brought my tefilin to a sofer during my lunch break to have the retzuah in the tefilin shel yad changed so that I could "twist outward." And, among other things, on Sukkos I will now do the "right, left, front, up, down, back" na'anuim. Etc. Etc.
- At least at the beginning, the unfamiliarity of the text will force me to read from the sidur, at least for a few months, which will make me more attentive to the words and meaning of the davening that I am saying
- It's important to come on davening in general. The tzura of a real Jew is one who comes on time to davening. It's bizyonos and it's just not tzuras HaYid to run into davening late almost every day, skipping huge portions of the sidur, etc.
- The desire not to feel fake and phoney about keeping more Chassidish minhagim should motivate me to be more medakdeik in halacha and to do what's more appropriate in general.
- Even though thinking about Hashem, hashgacha pratis, working on subtle ta'avos, etc. are the goal of life, a life of real avodas Hashem can only exist b'emes, in the context of a real halachic life. Without that kli, a life of high falutin' Chassidus and hisbonenus about Hashem in the world is just a "binyan ha'poreiach b'avir," a "tree without roots."
Im Yirtzeh Hashem, all of these changes should be l'toeles. They should help bring me, as means toward an end, closer to the point when I will be a better Jew next Yom Kippur than I was this past Yom Kippur.