If the congregation give the cantor a fair go, he can turn the services into a heartrending spiritual experience. If however the congregants talk incessantly one wonders why the chazan is necessary.
Naturally it’s a blessing to have a congregation who are so sure of their sinlessness that they can manage without a prayer leader and can take the risk of talking above his chanting – an indication that he is indeed unnecessary.
The pity is that the prayers do not limit themselves to the particular individuals in that synagogue at that moment but they look at the defects of communities, societies, nations and the whole world, and one might have thought that unless the congregants are totally self-centred and selfish, they would need a chazan to formulate a passionate plea to the Creator to save and strengthen His creation – so maybe the chazan is needed after all.
There is a passage in the Talmud (RH 17b) that says that the main chazan on the High Holydays is actually God Himself. The sages say that He puts on a tallit like a cantor and chants the words of the prayers. We might ask to whom He is praying, and what prayers He is uttering.
One view is that when He looks at His creation, He says to Himself, “May it be My will that My mercy exceed My justice – may I deal with the world with more graciousness and compassion than they really deserve.”
It is also possible that He says, “I have made such a beautiful world and filled it with such grandeur – may My children have the brains and determination to make wise use of their environment.”
He probably also says, “As I am patient and forgiving, may My children be patient with each other and give one another the benefit of the doubt…”
Being made in the image of God, we each have the capacity to be His partner in completing the work of Creation, lighting a candle to bring light to every corner of the world, doing the right thing by God and man, improving ourselves by means of heart, mind and soul.