Sunday, September 16, 2007

525. Rosh Hashanah 5768, part 2

(Continued from here.)

"Both Kierkegaard and the Kotzker were concerned with the problem of truth as it pertains to self-knowledge. The problem is acute because nothing is easier than to deceive oneself. As the mind grows sophisticated, self-deception advances. The inner life become a wild, inextricable maze. Who can trust one's own motivations? One's honesty? Who can be sure whether one is worshiping one's own ego or an idol while ostensibly adoring God? There is a credibility gap within the soul, and it can only be bridged by the Spirit of Truth."

--Abraham Joshua Heschel, A Passion for Truth

We studied this passage at services this Shabbat Shuvah, the Shabbat between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. I read it and gasped; Heschel articulated exactly what I could not, as I stood at the bimah Thursday and Friday, but nevertheless wondered from somewhere deep in my kiskhes.

Services were wonderful. Making sounds came easily Thursday morning, and a little less so at the start on Friday because I was tired (I had some friends over the night before, lots of fun but perhaps not the wisest choice, in retrospect), but I warmed up after a few prayers. (I think I finally figured out the right way to prepare: start singing a few days in advance, and don't stop. Also, don't be sick.) As we got to the end of the service and I had the luxury of using up all my remaining energy, I decided to imagine there were no boundaries at all between me and--everything, the congregation, God, the universe. I thought about making sounds to fill up all possible space in the room, like water in an aquarium. I pictured my voice as a red carpet welcoming the V.I P. God who, God forbid, shouldn't have to walk on a plain old floor in order to encounter our communal souls.

It was scary to sing this way, to be so forceful and open. In the past, my fears were mostly about what people would think--will I do a good job? will I sound OK? This year I finally figured out how to trust myself, and that the bimah was a safe place with a rabbi or two at my side to catch me if I fell. But on both days my heart beat faster and faster as I continued. I think I was afraid of what Heschel wrote, above: my truth. What was I hiding in order to act confident? Was this sense of a heavenly ear justified, or my own wishful "wild, inextricable maze" of ego? It felt selfish to focus on God and our public, intimate conversation--shouldn't the congregation, on whose behalf I was praying, have been foremost in my awareness? In past years much of my strength came from everyone surrounding me, waves of it bouncing back up to the bimah like light off a mirror. This time I know I sent out more energy than I received. Which way is correct? Which is honest?

I was joyful the first day and a little angry the second, aware of my inability to pretend that I was completely happy with the state of the world, or my life. On Friday morning I heard myself sing "HaMelech" with sadness--I didn't mean to. But it came out that way. Later on I chanted the Amidah like an apology, wanting to be sure God, and all who listened, knew I really was grateful despite my doubts.

(to be continued)

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