I'm not usually superstitious (I figure God retired from the business of signs and portents after the burning bush, because Who could top that?), but changed my mind last Saturday evening following services. As I walked down Broadway musing about my lack of a second challah, a woman I knew just vaguely from my synagogue ran out of a store, a bakery. I watched her peer up and down the block as if searching for someone. She saw me, rushed over, and held out a bag. "I just bought a challah, and they had a two-for-one sale--but I only need one. Here! It's yours!" And before I could protest, she turned around and ran in the other direction.
I stood there for a moment as Broadway bustled, wondering if a flash of lightning would follow, sure no one would believe this story, and certain it indicated that services would go well. And they did.
I was utterly exhausted after Sunday; my brain didn't begin to work again until yesterday. I've been trying to take it easy in preparation for Yom Kippur (my body decided to sleep about ten hours every night this week, giving me little choice in the matter), when I'll be leading both Shaharit and Minha. The cantor, like every cantor in the world, will be singing at all five services on Yom Kippur, beginning with Kol Nidre on Sunday night and continuing with four or five hours of Shaharit and Musaf the next morning, and another three of Minha and Ne'ila in the afternoon. It doesn't seem humanly possible that one person can store enough emotional energy to last that long without collapsing like a wrung-out rag, as I did after only one service.
But I was also energized by the luck of the draw--I got to lead both mornings at the synagogue, more intimate and beautiful than the other two locations and filled with my friends. The cantor himself sat off to the side on Sunday (his one morning off), making me a little nervous. A few small moments of drama also upped my adrenaline level: the musicians skipped a song by mistake; I was asked to gabbai the Torah reading at the last minute and couldn't find the page in my machzor, so just stood dumbly off to the side for an aliyah and prayed the reader wouldn't make a mistake; the rabbi, during the moment of silence preceding the Shema, indicated that I should lead the prayer. The rabbi always leads the Shema. In the .25 second that followed, I cycled very rapidly through something like the seven stages--of incredulity: shock; denial ("That cue can't possibly be for me..."); bargaining ("It's OK if I don't come in..."); guilt ("...but I'll let everyone down if I don't..."); anger ("I'm not supposed to do this!"); depression ("...but I'll hate myself if I don't...); acceptance and hope ("There's nothing cooler than leading the Shema. OK, take a deep breath..."). And I did, and sang the line without revealing any hint of the high-level negotiations that preceded it.