I chanted a big chunk of Torah two weeks ago and was cool as a cucumber. But today, a return to old problems: clammy palms, quaking knees, a voice that shook until I remembered breathing was a part of singing. People told me I sounded fine and my nerves weren't evident, but I noticed them and was annoyed. Perhaps I am too self-critical--but I aim to have fun up there. I want the act of chanting to reflect my joy at being among friends and in the safest place in the universe. This morning I had hoped to savor the words about Bezalel, with whom I feel kinship as an artist. But I think my body remembered distant experiences with lengthy parashiot and reacted as if in crisis, although my mind said otherwise. I was completely exhausted by the time I sat down.
I've come to the conclusion that I'm most unsure about my singing after weeks that end with lots of stuff still unresolved. No matter that I'm usually ecstatic on Shabbat morning, loving the God-sanctioned gift of putting burdens aside--I may not consciously think of my tsuris du jour, but it's still in my bones, lungs, and voice. Talk about hiding and revealing: I am completely unable to dissemble while reading Torah. This is because I'm naked (figuratively, thank goodness, but that doesn't make it any easier). Naked can be terrifying, like those dreams about giving speeches, or freeing, like skinny-dipping in the ocean. Chanting feels like a combination of both.
I never get nervous while leading services, a much bigger deal--but there are rabbis, musicians, and a siddur full of vowels to lean on if necessary. Chanting Torah requires trust in myself alone--my ear, my memory--and when I'm short of self-confidence in other parts of life, the doubt spills over.
I think chanting Torah is also trying to teach me the words of the Mei HaShiloah that we studied on Friday night:
Shabbat is in every mitzvah in which is found the intention for the sake of Heaven... It was also present in the work of the Tabernacle, which was performed for the glory of Heaven [which is why the laws of Shabbat are mentioned in this week's parasha before the instructions about building the Tabernacle].
In other words, you can't do anything with all your heart and soul unless you first figure out how to relax. When I remain calm, and create silence and space in which my rational mind can overrule my subconscious, I am much better at offering my particular gifts.
I think the reading of the Torah never ceases, week after week, year after year, because we need all that time to observe ourselves in its mirror. And for me it's not just the interpretation of those words that reveals change and growth, but their actual utterances. I get an extra layer to figure out. Lucky me.
I don't mean that sarcastically. What a gift!--I just need to get better at using it.