This past Shabbat I chanted the fun part of Ki Tavo, the section with all the curses (although they're not quite as gruesome, or long, as these curses). I'd read it a few times before—it shows up in two of the three triennial cycles—but never quite memorized the arrangement of "arurs" ("cursed be..."), the word that begins almost every pasuk in the section. Maybe the Masoretes were trying to weed out the cursed from the blessed by assigning no discernible pattern of trop to those repeated words. I sort of figured out a plan, but by Shabbat mnemonics such as "revi'a = lying with your sister" were still perched only tentatively in my short-term memory.
So I was a nervous. (I'm always nervous when I read. But this time, a little more.) My blood pressure was not lowered by the knowledge that this aliyah is usually given to to a rabbi, so as not to burden any congregant with with such unpleasant suggestions. (I've also read that it's occasionally given to the reader, logic being that she's already up there. Thankfully, I was not asked to take it.) As much as I love my rabbis, I was not looking forward to one of them staring over my shoulder as I read. This time, however, it was given to the cantor, and after few verses I realized that if anyone know the shortcomings of my voice and abilities, it was he—so who better to suffer them up close. I might as well just chill. All went well, aside from the strangled sound I made on a high note because I forgot to breathe. All that remained for me to chant were the 7th and maftir aliyot, a mere three verses. I could relax.
But not entirely. A VIP—a Very VIP—was called up for the 7th aliyah. I was so happy to be done with the curses that I just ignored that fact that two rabbis, the cantor, and a Big Shot Very VIP were breathing down my neck. And at the last line, they all started to laugh. I had no idea why, but joined in; it felt good.
When I got back home I took another look at the end of that aliyah (Deut. 28:6), and understood why:
Barukh atah bevo'ekha uvarukh atah betsetekha.
Blessed will you be when you come and blessed when you go
which is exactly what was happening. Talk about the Torah as a mirror of life; another very good lesson for Elul.
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