Sunday, February 18, 2007

456. Yom Kippur 5767, part 7

I have a cold, feh. Second one this month, very annoying. So, since I don't have energy to do much of anything else, this brief window before the Day-Quil wears off seemed like a good time to curl up on the sofa with Don Carlo* and finish the coda to last September's High Holy Days:

(Continued from here.)

Unlike the hour-long warm-up of Psalms during Shaharit, Minha begins with the Torah service. No preliminaries, just plunge right into deep water. The rabbi and I walked out to the bima and began to hum a niggun. The church was almost full, an impressive crowd for 4:30 on Yom Kippur afternoon. (If I didn't have to be there, I probably would have overslept and stumbled in right before Ne'ila.) We turned to face the Ark, which suddenly seemed bigger and closer than ever before; I was speechless. I could feel the eyes of the cellist at my left as he waited, bow poised, for a signal to begin playing. The rabbi must have sensed my momentary, paralyzing state of awe, and began to sing softly under her breath: "Vayehi binsoa Aharon..." I remembered where I was and nodded to the cellist, who dropped his bow with gusto against the strings.

I didn't recognize the sounds coming out of my mouth. I didn't sound like me, to me. The notes came from somewhere completely empty and free, since I hadn't eaten for a day; their passage from my body to the outside air was unimpeded, and powered by a burst of energy I no longer had to conserve. I could use every last drop. A few times I was sure that I began on the wrong note because its placement, where the sound was physically formed in my diaphragm and head, felt so unfamiliar. But in fact I was so warmed up, having already sung for a few hours earlier in the day, and so empty inside, in a good way, that I was probably singing correctly for the first time ever.

I sat for the Torah and haftarah reading but felt like I was hiding a fire, like I was about to explode and needed to get up and dance. During the hazara, the repetition of the Amidah, I listened to my sound filling up the large space. It was very different than at the smaller theater or packed synagogue; I could hear notes bouncing off walls and people and then flying back home, as if they were playing and having fun under the watchful embrace of the large dome above.

Minha ended; the Ne'ila hazzan took over at the bima, and I sat down with my friends. But the gates had already closed, as far as I was concerned. The moment when I heard my sound coming back to me felt like the sealing, proof that God had listened and taken action. I could only pray, during the rest of the service, for enough strength and confidence during the coming year to handle the results of that action.

The shofar blew. I met up with a friend at the front of the church and, still dressed in white, headed off to a break-fast a few blocks away. It was odd to notice that the rest of the world hadn't stopped during the past three hours. I stuffed my face with multiple bagels and lox and then went home and slept for a very long time, and woke up to a clean state.

* Just my cat, don't get excited.

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