(So, as I was saying...)
We had one final High Holiday rehearsal, the first that included a rabbi and the cantor. It was at 3 o'clock on a Friday, a bad idea; everyone was in a rush to get home and prepare for Shabbat. So we performed the Cliff's Notes version of Shaharit, which was fine with me. I knew it inside out by now. The instrumentalists were ready to pack up and go home when I reminded them that I'd never rehearsed the Torah service, which I would lead in less than a week.
So we ran through it very quickly, skipping the easy parts, until we got to the prayer that accompanies the return of the scrolls to the Ark. The cantor had decided a few days earlier to set half of it to a niggun, a wordless melody, and use the traditional weekday morning tune for the rest. I barely knew that tune, however, and the words of the prayer didn't quite fit to the rhythm of the niggun. I had tried in vain the day before to master this complicated pastiche, and hoped that the sound of the instruments would get it into my ear. But a better study aid soon materialized: the cantor himself, who came up front and stood next to me without saying a word. The band began to play and we both started to sing, myself a bit softer and a millisecond behind as I tried to shadow his notes. I, too, was speechless; this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, since the cantor stands at the bima only on the High Holidays and an occasional minor holiday or Yizkor (memorial) service. The purpose of his singing that afternoon was to teach, and with each note that propped me up came the silent transmission, like an electric current, of gentle instructions from a lifetime of music, emotion, and the experience of acting as God's most modest messenger. We were at the bima for just a few minutes, but at the end I was dizzy from such close exposure to a force of energy that brought thousands of people closer to heaven each time the cantor opened his mouth.