The Shabbat before last, right before we read Parashat Bo, the rabbi spoke about timing in the Torah. We're described as strangers, sojourners, gerim, even before we leave Egypt. Were we already en route when the story officially began? Perhaps we experienced a trial run, a smaller Exodus before the big one. OK, so we've been wandering forever; what else is new? But it's important, noted the rabbi, to define the beginning of a journey as well as its end. We need to be able to look back and see how far we've come. I thought about this blog and my first post exactly two years and seven days ago, and realized I can finally define the question that made me start writing in the first place. It's much simpler than I imagined. Every word is really about just one thing: Why do I sing? The answer: because I need to pray.
But endings are important, too. Last month, in a frenzy of hiddur mitzvah envy, I bought the least expensive, most beautiful havdalah set I could find. Havdalah and I have had a rocky and somewhat guilt-ridden relationship. I never heard the word until a few years ago; I think it's one of those quasi-mystical services that fell out of favor during the pragmatic modern era, popular at Jewish summer camps but otherwise relegated to a mumble by the man of the house right after sunset. Spices, candlelight, wine: the "greatest hits" of ritual objects, a feast for the senses to mark the separation of Shabbat from regular time. I watched the ceremony a few times at synagogue retreats, but never led it myself until two years ago, in front of about a thousand people, at the end of Ne'ila on Yom Kippur. This felt like competing in the Olympics without ever running the race on local turf. But I sang with confidence, pretending I was a havdalah expert a million times over and praying there wasn't a big red "H" on my forehead alerting everyone to the truth.