Connection Before Correction

Readers of this site know that this is my year of living dangerous, as I have taken the amud on a regular basis for the first time in my life. I’m getting better at davening, but not being a great reader, I make mistakes in pronunciation, especially when I rush or feel pressured. Because we pasken that exact pronunciation is not required, on-the-spot corrections are not necessary. Some of my closer friends have pointed out some consistent errors, and since they showed care and compassion, it wasn’t too painful.

What’s interesting about davening Shacharis is that the brochos are often the first sounds coming out of your mouth. On a recent trip to the Amud, those first words revealed a post-nasal drip driven horse-ness which was not a good sign for the upcoming 50 minute Shacharis. In addition I made some pronunciation mistakes right off that bat. I got through it, but it was a stressful Shacharis.

After davening I was going to get my coffee for my daily dose of the daf, and I saw an acquaintance who is not a regular minyan member, rush out after me. I knew what was coming and before he said anything, I said “Don’t correct me”. He was taken off guard and he said he just wanted to wish me words of consolation. I said thank you and then he asked, “Can I correct you?”. I politely told him no and said that he should speak to the Gabbai, which was the procedure that had been established to handle corrections.

The next day he was there again, and I motioned to him to step outside and I asked him to please not look for corrections. He told me he has been correcting people for years and this was the first time anybody objected. I tried to explain how this was still difficult for me and how correction usually required a closer relationship than we had. He would have none of it and he insisted that his corrections were the right thing. I decided not to daven from the amud that day.

After davening, I related the incident to a friend for a specific reason, without mentioning names. He shook his head knowingly, and told me the corrector had corrected him in the past and he was upset by it. He did not say anything, because he didn’t want to get into it with the corrector.

We all find ourselves in potentially correction situations including shushing, seating conflicts, meetings and other situations. It’s easy to forget the connection before correction rule. Even if we have a good relationship, we have to be sure the person will accept the correction and will not be insulted by it. It’s difficult, but with more awareness I think we can all improve here.

6 thoughts on “Connection Before Correction”

  1. I can relate to this post having been ” forced” to the amud myself after multiple family losses. I have also been ” corrected” many times before and know that sting all too well. However I always felt that it was my job to daven the best I could every time. The Amud is no mans land and it can be a very humbling depending on the time of year.

    I would constantly review myself and weed out errors. People came up to all the time and I thought nothing of it. It’s their shacharis also and believe me, no one wants to constantly hear mistakes for eleven months. The better you daven the more you help your father as well. Deflecting people to some third party gabbei can also be patronizing or insulting to others that are trying to help you improve. I found that by warming up my voice before davening and drinking a little warm liquid really helped. It’s a performance and you must work really hard to rise to the occasion every single time. Before you know it t will all be over.

  2. IY”H next week will be the end of over 600 consecutive days of aveilut. I have spent more time than I care to think about davening for the amud. I have been corrected more times than I can count, and yes, there have been chronic correctors. There was one man who was the worst culprit by far. The first think he did was he wrote a note around the edge of a sign on the bulletin board near the entrance to the beit midrash. The note was about mispronunciations of certain words in Kaddish. He didn’t mention me by name, but since I was the only non-Israeli davening for the amud, it was easy to know that I was his target. Then he cornered me, twice, to complain. Finally I just told him to leave me alone. I spoke to the gabbi, who told me to speak to the Rav, who told me my pronunciations were fine.

    The worst thing I’ve heard about corrections was from a friend of mine, who was davening for the amud one morning when someone slipped him a note about mispronouncing a word. Imagine that!

    It’s been only recently that a few people have told me that they actually appreciate my davening. “You don’t mumble.” “I am able to hear you in the back of the room.” “Your davening has improved a lot.” These kinds of things make me feel much better about myself and my davening.

    I wish you peace in your tfilot, and that you continue to improve. Really, God is the only one you need to impress with your davening, and as long as you’re giving it your best shot – that’s all you need to do.

    1. A.F. – Thanks for the words of blessing. Thankfully, I’ve gotten better over the past five months I’ve been davening, and even more thankfully a few friends have told me I’ve improved. Hopefully, I’ll continue to improve.

      Another insight I’ve gained from this is that there is a difference between reading and davening. I’m not a great reader, especially under pressure, and sometimes I even fumpher on Kiddush which I know well. At the beginning it was very difficult, because I was reading under pressure. One day I decided I was going to daven and not just read, with as much Kavanna and feeling as I could muster. It took a lot longer that day and people complained, but in days after that I sped it up to the acceptable level and it has helped.

      Zev – There are halachos on these things which I’ve discussed with my Rav. Here are few:
      1. Exact pronunciation is very difficult and only dikduk experts can achieve it. Thankfully we pasken that we’re yotze without exact pronunciation.
      2. Correction is results oriented and a person has to be careful on how it will be received. If he does it insultingly he could be over Onoas Devorim which would be a Issur D’Oraisa.
      3. My Rav said we have to be careful not to do things that will mess up our Kavanna and extra careful not to mess up somebody else’s Kavanna. Being a corrector can mess up somebody’s Kavanna.
      4. The halachos of precedence and the institution of the Gabbai are primarily intended to eliminate machlokes. And when they’re good at their job, that goal is achieved. That’s why these matters should be handled by the Gabbai.

  3. Long-time reader, first time poster.
    I appreciate and enjoy this blog very much.

    I never personally asked a rav about these halachos, but the items you post about pronunciation being difficult, onoas devarim, the institution of gabbai, and the reduction of machlokes make sense and seem logical.

    That having been said, I want to gently point out that, right or wrong, when you point out a lacking in one’s middos, derech eretz, or understanding of relevant halachos, they may be just as hurt as you are when they point out your errors in davening. (I feel comfortable saying this because I know from this blog that you are a growth oriented person and would be receptive to this comment.)

    I would also add that when I daven from the amud, I want to be corrected as I would like to know where my errors are so I can try to correct them. I understand that you may not feel similarly, but others may assume that a growth-oriented person such as yourself would like to know of potential improvements.

    Finally, or one may feel hurt, insulted, or burdened when a friend/acquaintance tries to help us in a certain way. (And I assume that this person was honestly trying to help you.) We don’t necessarily want or need their favors at this time. But people have a need to give and to feel helpful, so at times it can be a chesed to let them. Of course you don’t have to allow yourself to become depressed or to go crazy with other peoples’ meshugas, and if he is a chronic corrector, maybe you could ask the rav or gabbai to gently guide this person. But perhaps if you look at it as you are doing a chessed for them by hearing them out, maybe it will become more tolerable for you.

    Hatzlacha, and apologies if anything I typed was hurtful or insulting.

    1. Michael,
      I would always listen to anyone who made corrections to my davening. I’d say thank you when they finished, and later I’d go back and look at what they were talking about in the siddur. At that point, I’d make a decision as to whether their correction was legitimate or not. For things that made sense, I’d make a mental note to work on it. Corrections that were not legitimate were ignored. By far, I am not the world’s best baal tfila, and I’d be happy to correct things that were wrong.

      On the other hand, I was davening with an American ashkenazi accent in an Israeli shule. Some of the mistakes that were pointed out were not mispronunciations, but were due to my accent. As I mentioned, both the Rav and the gabbi had no problems with my davening. (As the gabbi once tole me, “Don’t worry – people are yotzei with your brachot.”)

      Now that my chiyuv is finished, we’ll see if the kehilla wants me to daven on days when there are no aveilim. If they do, then I’ll know my pronunciations really were OK. If not, I’ll be happy to sit in my corner and daven. Today was day 636 of aveilut and my last day of kaddish. I need a break!

    2. Michael, thanks for sharing your thoughts.

      I agree that you have to be very careful when pointing out a lack in somebodies middos, derech eretz or understanding of halachos. In most, perhaps almost all cases it’s better to say nothing. I didn’t relate the whole story in the case of the corrector. That being said, I’m not claiming that I handled the situation properly and retrospectively I probably should’ve just nodded, smiled and said thank you, like the others who were corrected in the past.

      When discussing this post with others, many people shared examples where they felt hurt and insulted by helpful corrections. The intended take away was how careful we have to be with correction.

      In terms of saying the davening right, I’d be surprised if there are many people who don’t care. I certainly want to say it right. Some experts in dikduk that I know, have told me that very few people say the davening totally correctly. It then comes down to how many hours (or tens of hours) do you spend practicing exact dikduk and what level is it practical to shoot for, given the added factors of the speed at which you have to daven. My Rav and some Gabbaim have told me I’m doing fine. I’m assuming that they think I will improve further and it’s halachically correct as it is now. However I’m going to spend some more time practicing based on conversations with some friends.

Comments are closed.