Friday, March 23, 2007

471. Yad, part 1

The first time I chanted Torah in public was also the first time I saw a Torah scroll up close, and held a yad*. Shaking so much I was afraid I'd inadvertently poke it through the parchment, I grabbed the yad like a golf club with both hands. This felt completely comfortable and natural, and holding tightly onto the solid piece of silver helped steady my nerves and encourage my eyes to draw a straight path across the sea of unpunctuated letters.

I continued to hold the yad with two hands whenever I chanted Torah and never noticed, until a rabbi pointed it out three years ago, that almost everyone else used one, and the other to hold open the scroll. Thereafter I became very self-conscious about my non-mainstream stance until I noticed that F., pillar of the community, also used both hands. My style of grasp wasn't odd, I told myself; it simply reflected tradition. But I was also aware of the logistical challenges this habit placed on gabbaim, those on either side of me at the bima who followed along as I read. They had to hold open the scroll while making sure not to lose their places in the humash or quickly assign the task to the nervous person honored with the aliyah, who would probably let go mid-verse and force me to prop open the scroll with my elbows as if jockeying for space on a crowded bus. For quite awhile, whenever I stepped up to the bima I worried not only about getting my portion right, but also about who would have the job of stopping the parchment from curling into my forearms as I read. I felt very selfish; all those nice people helping me fulfill the ritual already had enough to think about.

(Continued here.)
*I don't recommend this. Practice beforehand with the real thing, if at all possible.

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