I feel like I'm drowning in a sea of words. I'm behind schedule with teshuva, and just four more days remain until Rosh Hashanah. As I try to catch up, I struggle this year with how to apply some kind of sensible, sensitive grammar to my prayers, even ones that come from the deepest, most inarticulate part of my heart. I expected to be thinking less about words this year, since I know them so well after three years of helping lead services. But I fear, instead, that my ease with these words will sound rote or hollow to those who listen.
Judaism is bound to words, and this month we add accountings of our actions, both out loud and within the whispers of our hearts, to all that Torah and Talmud. It's not a vague or improvised analysis, but declarative, in sentences. We need to hear ourselves tell ourselves how we missed the mark. Words, in Jewish prayer, are seeds of ideas and actions that transcend words, and as a shaliah tzibur I believe that my accurate transmission of tradition creates a structure of language that defines spaces within which we can organize jumbled thoughts and hidden truths. I feel like my past struggles with form--how to sing and phrase--were vehicles for my kavannah. Not really knowing what I was doing forced me to think differently about what I meant and how, despite insecurity, colds, and laryngitis, to get the message across. Without that struggle, will my prayer translate beyond where only God can hear it? Will it be understood by others? Maybe the struggle never goes away, but just changes form. I guess I'll know in a few days. Or maybe I need to get used to comfort, and a new kind of language.
I pray that the chords of the High Holy Day melody at Selihot tonight will give me goosebumps just as they do every year, even though I've been listening to them for many weeks, and remind me how lucky I am to have a key to the gates, to a new beginning, to a community and rabbis and cantor who taught me how to talk to God. Now I just have to figure out how to answer.