Sunday, October 09, 2005

Time to Read Torah

I read Torah every Yom Kippur. Each year since 1982 I am the first guy up there. I walk up to the bimah, wait for the blessing and then it is off to the races. The first few years I was self-conscious about it.

I don't have a particularly good singing voice. I found that out the hard way. In 1982, (yes, the same year) I had the lead role in a musical. I still remember the laughter and I see some of the faces of those who laughed at me.

Many of those people were there when I started reading and I remember wondering if they would laugh again. I was 13 and much more aware of myself in that awkward junior high way. Part of me very much wanted to get out of reading, but at the same time I was honored and so I did it.

In time it got to be quite easy. I knew it by heart. I didn't have to look, all I had to do was start chanting. It is fair to say that I got a little cocky, but my cockiness was shortlived.

Three years ago I was tripped up. I started chanting and then looked down only to realize that the scroll was in the wrong place. Someone had grabbed the wrong Torah. I stopped in midstream. There was silence as I tried to quietly tell the gabbai to stop coaching me from his Chumash. I knew what the problem was.

And I also knew that suddenly I felt like that kid again. I couldn't remember how it was supposed to go. I couldn't get started and for a moment I wondered if somehow, someway G-d was testing me or punishing me for not taking it seriously enough, for not paying attention.

Since that moment I have made sure to do a few things. I always start out by confirming that we are in the right place, but even before I get up there I make time to consider what is happening, why I am there and what I want. I wrap my son up with me inside my tallis and I silently bless him.

I ask G-d to protect my family to forgive me for the things I have done and offer myself in this service. I am not yet the man I want to be, but I am working on it. I try to remain humble and honest. I may not tremble, but I am aware of my place in the world.

This year I will take both of my children inside my tallis and bless them. I will kiss them both and then I will silently walk up and prepare to chant. In moments it will be complete, but during the time that I am up there it will feel like hours. I will be present in the moment and aware of things going on around me. I'll see my parents and the faces of others. I'll hear my son tell everyone around him that I am his daddy and I'll smile.

It will be over in a moment but during it I'll feel like I have lived a lifetime. In the end I always ask for the same thing. Take care of my family, worry about them and I'll worry about me.

Yom Kippur approaches and I feel unsettled.


Benji said...

You sure seem like you're on the right track. May all your prayers be answered on Yom Kippur and May you continue to grow and learn.

Jack Steiner said...

You too Benji. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I may draw the short straw and have to make the (arrrgggghhhh) appeal speech this year. "Gut Yontif. We need your money. Hope that doesn't spoil the mood too much! Thank you!"

I won't know until Kol Nidre night, but I said I would do it if no one else would.

PsychoToddler said...

Last year, at my son's bar mitzvah, he was reading the haftorah and a page got stuck, so he started reading the wrong page. After a few moments, murmurs began arising from the crowd as people couldn't figure our where he was. When he realized the mistake, he stopped reading, conked himself in the forehead with the palm of his hand, and started up again in the right place.

My heart was in my mouth by then.

Jack Steiner said...


That kind of stuff is easy for me, provided that I am speaking in my native tongue. ;)


I appreciate that in all sorts of ways.

Unknown said...

I do the Torah portion in English reading on the afternoon of Yom Kippur. I feel it is kind of appropriate for me...a convert :) But for some reason, me, a national public speaking winner (Jaycees), when I hit that bema, I am beside myself. My heart is in my mouth. I think I'd stroke out if I didn't have the right thing to read. Absolutely.