I continue to return to the translation and parasha from which it's excerpted, so that I really understand what I'm talking about. I need to make more time to study the whole parasha in greater depth. I've also started to try to translate it word for word by myself after learning how to do so during two great months of Hebrew tutoring this past fall, which really helps with phrasing--although the trop usually takes care of that part.
A few days before I read, I enlist the help of my friend the Internet Cantor (bible.ort.org). The Internet Cantor is always right. He uses a different trop, but I can still figure out if I've learned something wrong. The Internet Cantor has come to my rescue numerous times, and when I do make a mistake, it's generally because I haven't listened to him carefully enough.
My next step is to read the section from my other tikkun, the ornate and exacting "Simonim." This version mediates any lingering pronunciation questions and also, usually, has different line breaks than the "Ktav." I get really thrown if I can't practice from versions where the words fall out in different places. I try not to learn visually, but can't seem to help it. No matter how much I've studied and concentrated on what it all means, I sometimes get confused when I look at the scroll and everything is on a different part of the line than I'm used to.
The final step is to not get nervous. I go to services and try to forget that I'm reading part of a 5,000 year old story that all Jews around the world are also reading at the same time. I attempt to convince myself that it's not as important a task as I might think. I usually fail, and am shaking a little when I go up to the bima. But I relax once I grasp the yad with both hands (which isn't how it's supposed to be held, but I'm afraid my hands will shake if I only use one) and start to sing, and remember that there are brilliant people on either side, and all around, ready to catch and correct me if I fall.
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