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You better know when to start repeating the Amdiah, or people will get mad.
How do you repeat the Silent Prayer, the Amidah, out loud? That is a question nobody can answer. Yet, it is done. Hence, we will focus on when to start the repetition of the Amidah, the Chazaras HaShatz.
Knowing when to start the repetition of the Silent Prayer out loud is a skill that takes years of study of the subtlety human expression. Here are some of the signs you'll get from the Gabais and members of shuls, to let you know when to begin.
The Head Nod
That is the most common cue. You're looking for the upward nod. The downward nod is a perplexed guy trying to figure out why the custodian hasn't vacuumed the carpet.
Be sure it's not a side-to-side head shake. That means to not start, and that the guy is confused. It's subtleties. Be sure the eyes are telling you to go.
Reading the eyes and the Head Nod are not always easy. The first time I got the Head Nod, I thought the Gabai was saying 'Hi.' I stepped away from the Amid (the Chazin's spot) and asked about his kids. He answered me with a 'Nu.' I believe 'Nu' means to start, as I read his eyes and he was not happy. Maybe if his kids brought him more Nachis, he would've been fine getting a coffee.
That's it. A blink. That is your indicator. A blink.
Study your Gabais. Before embarking with a blink, be sure the Gabai doesn't have a twitch. If you see the Gabai blinking a lot and harshly, maybe go over to him and ask if he has allergies before starting the repetition.
It's a subtle stop sign. That means don't go. The hand comes down a little, that means go. To be honest, the stop and start signs looked very similar. I could swear they were the same exact movement. Though, when I got a nasty look, I knew that meant to start the Chazaras HaShatz. Any nasty look of disappointment means to start the repetition.
Universal Sign: A disappointed look that is usually given to a child that didn't get an 'A', If you get that look at forty, you start.
As a rookie, I thought the hand coming down a little meant to repeat the Amidah very slowly. That full repetition I felt a lot of disappointment.
The Tefillin Touch and Shoulder Brush
If your shul is into community softball, this will probably be the Gabai's tell for you to go.
Loud Breath Out
That is a definite go. A lot of anger. It's a frustration that starts at home with one of the kids missing the bus, makes its way to some guy cutting people off onto the off-ramp, then having to see Bernie as the first person in shul, and manifests itself with you not starting the Amidah when he wants.
I got the Breath Out from the congregation when I asked the Gabai about his kids. It was nice to see the shul membership join in unison.
The Breath Out Head Shake and Hand Wave with Eye Blink
If they've got to give you all the signs, they're not allowing you to pray again. It makes no difference how many Yahrzeits you have, you're not taking the Amid (where the Chazin leads the Amidah from).
The Table Bang
That is a mistake or somebody is really angry. That is the next level of anger. If I was you, I would skip the repetition, grab my Tefillin bag, and run out of shul. I've done that many of times when I was not aware it was Rosh Chodesh.
The Table Bang is usually reserved for Rosh Chodesh. I am educating Gabais now. One time, the Gabai tried relaying the immediate start by banging the table. Everybody in shul thought it was Rosh Chodesh, and thought they forgot YaAleh vYavo. They all took three steps back and repeated the Amidah. That took another five minutes. Then, when I started the 'vTechezana' verse in the repetition, they all shouted 'YaAleh vYavo!'
If There is a Rabbi Wait
How long? A very long time.
After you have waited the amount of time it would take you to finish Musaf on Yom Kippur, it is probably time to start. Wait till you're spaced out and ready to go back to bed. At the point, you should start. The rabbi might have taken his three steps back. You'll hear a lot of loud huffs and you'll receive a lot of disappointed looks. Don't take it personally. They're mad at themselves for hiring the rabbi.
Grunts and Throat Clearing
They're trying to get your attention and you somehow didn't understand the blink. Now, the congregation is grunting. One guy is screaming 'GO!' And you're still up there thinking you should wait for the one guy who feels it's important to pray silently till noon.
I just saw it today. They gave everything to the guy. The rabbi finished the Shema real loud. Twice. That's a sign. They even banged his table. And he still didn't get it. They grunted more and he turned around and asked people if they were OK. A guy had to go over to him, put his push hand on his shoulder and say 'go.' And then he waited till he got more grunts.
Good luck. It gets complicated. I wish I could tell you exactly when to start the repetition. I can't. Study the congregation. It's hard to tell whether it's a sign or the guy is just adjusting his Kippah. Sometimes, a sneeze means you should start the Chazaras HaShatz. Again, any movement other than a guy taking off his Tefillin means to start. If a cough comes right after you say the blessing 'Redeemer of Israel,' skip the silent part of the Silent Prayer and do the Silent Prayer out loud.
And get used to messing up your Tefillin. As the Baal Tefillah (Chazin), they make you turn around to see when to start, so that your Tefillin fly off to the side of your face. Nothing is more embarrassing than un-centered Tefillin.
We can pray for better days. BE"H at some point in the near future the Gabai will come to the front to kindly tell you to start. And you will be able to start the Chazaras HaShatz at the right time, with people who are happy to be in shul and Tefillin in place.
One thing I do know. If people start pelting you with stuff like paper or Kiddish platters, start the repetition.
I've got to get better at sensing subtlety. I think the congregation is waiting for me to say the Chazaras HaShatz. I just got spat on. I think it's time.
Next time we will talk about how to repeat the Amidah.
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