I felt like I had been entrusted with a precious jewel, my job to guard it and make sure it kept shining. But if I hovered too closely, there would be no room for light to enter and reflect back. And I would be blinded if I focused too much on the glow.
I relaxed a little more each time it was my turn to sing and tried to remember that I was praying, not performing. It wasn't easy--I wanted to sound good, but there was so much to think about that I kept forgetting to breathe. I knew I was singing flat. I watched for those small signals from the rabbi--a nod, the slight lift of a finger--and didn't miss a single cue. I was afraid it would all end, somehow, if I came in a second later than I was supposed to.
This kind of praying, I began to understand, was a partnership, just like when I stood in that same spot and chanted Torah while surrounded by gabbaim, olim, and the other players in the ritual. The three of us, rabbi to my left and cantor at the right, were weaving the first threads of some sort of amazing garment. And the congregation's responses filled in the rest of the texture, creating a fabric strong enough to hold us all. I couldn't hear the people in the sanctuary very well, but watched their bodies move in song to the rhythms we led, as if trying to draw a thread between themselves and the bima.
The rabbi had a beautiful, gentle voice. He radiated energy like a warm and steady desert wind; I could feel it, physically, buttressing me and smoothing over my nerves.