I helped lead services again on Friday night, next to the rabbi whose energy, equal parts strength and enveloping kindness, almost knocks me over. The more I do this--leading, chanting, learning--the more I feel the forces of individual and collective souls as they gently try to break past my own walls. I become speechless, especially after weeks as stressful as the past few, unable to find words to do justice to whatever presence surrounds me. I get frustrated at my inability to articulate the moment. Does it really exist if I can't describe it? And I believe I must; I owe that honesty to the community who made this experience possible in the first place.
It never seems possible to give as much as I'm receiving. Susannah Heschel, who sometimes visits my synagogue when she's in town, spoke at services about her father's belief that God's presence lives within the goodness we show each other. At the back of the sanctuary I noticed the man whose wife had died a few weeks ago. He looked frozen, empty. I wondered if my singing was giving him some comfort, or if I was having so much fun that I was keeping all the goodness for myself and not leaving enough extra to reach the last row.
I know I shouldn't be surprised by happiness. But I tend to keep little checklists in my mind of when joy is appropriate--in the presence of love; for family simchas, marriages, births, etc.; at times of triumph; for simple miracles, like looking at a flower. Personal joy from leading services, which seems very-self centered, is not on this list, although overlaps with some of those self-defined categories. A little is OK, but I don't quite know where to fit the great amounts that leave me wanting to run a marathon and leap over a mountain at the same time. I hope it keeps arriving, and continues to spread to the rest of my life. As those of us who daven from Siddur Sim Shalom pray at the end of the Amidah: "Let me hear joy and jubilation... Show me the path of life, the full joy of Your presence." Joy is a manifestation of God, and I need to not be afraid of its light.