Everyone started to talk and laugh about rainbows, but the room became quiet (as much as a room full of pre-schoolers can) as soon as the cantor removed the velvet covering from the sefer Torah.
He sat down on a chair and held the scroll vertically by the two Etzei Chayim, the wooden rollers, so that everyone could see. This is no easy feat, since it's heavy and quite unwieldy when rolled all the way to the Bereshit (Genesis) side. As is the custom at the kids' service, I got down on my knees on the floor right in front and started to read, the service leader wedging a portable mic between me and the Torah. Thank goodness I wasn't wearing a short skit, since all the kids would be able to see right up it. It's a really strange position for any task, let alone chanting Torah, and even more so when the cantor himself is hovering right above you, watching you move that yad from word to word. Well, I thought, at least he wasn't in the sanctuary a few minutes ago. (But of course everything is recorded, so he can hear my stumbles any time he might choose. Maybe he won't.)
I started reading, and after a moment or two the cantor said something, very softly. I couldn't hear him over the noise of the room, so decided: when in doubt, just keep going. He spoke again, this time a little louder: "End it." End what? What did this mean? Did it have some religious significance? Were the syllables even in English? I could not, as I was trying to concentrate on the melody that went with "a fire of pleasant odor" in any way parse the phrase. Then, suddenly, I understood; he wanted me to stop reading. These were little kids, and Noah's Ark is a long story. I had no idea how far I was from the end of the sentence, but decided that God would forgive me if I picked a random word for the melody that signaled the end. I chose "lev"--heart--which sounded symbolic of something, although I had no idea what.
I stood up. "Say yasher koach [congratulations]!" yelled the cantor. ""Yasher koach!" screamed the kids. He gave me a contrite smile. "Sorry... they're only used to hearing three verses..."
"No problem!' Although it would have been nice to know beforehand. But being in a room filled with children was truly in the spirit of Noach--a word that shares the same root as "rest," the whole reason we have Shabbat. And it was just the right taste I needed of the world to come after feeling certain that my struggles with the trop had added significantly to the imperfection of this current one.
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