(Yes, this has been the slowest Yamim Nora'im saga ever. As I was saying, continued from here:)
Mr. Loud and Ms. Louder were just a little annoying, at first. I could hear every note they sang, flat and half a second before I did, but figured they'd settle into a comfortable volume and also become aware of how distracting they were. It didn't happen; as their kavannah grew, their amplification followed close by. I was briefly proud of my ability as a shaliah to incite such levels of spiritual ecstasy. Then I realized they couldn't hear me at all, and I couldn't, either. Their singing quickly became like mosquitoes buzzing in my ears, drowning out my own awareness of any sounds I made.
I began to panic. I didn't have many options. I couldn't leave the bima and walk to the front row to tell them to shut up; public scolding is a bad example of hakhnasat orhim, shalom bayit, and all those other positive qualities I tried to embody as I stood before my fellow congregants. I could cup my ear to try to hear my own voice, but this also looked bad—and I needed both hands to hold the mahzor.
I could ask someone else to scold them. This seemed the best, and only, solution. The guitarist was right behind me, and during the Shema I turned around and hoped she could read lips. "Please tell the front row to be quiet," I mumbled.
"I can't leave!" she whispered back, shocked. Which was true; she had to play again in about 12 seconds.
I was out of ideas. I turned back to the bima and asked God to forgive me for hating those two nice people. It wasn't their fault; they meant well. (Although they had been given previous, gentle admonitions in the past. But today they were praying harder than ever, and forgot.) I encouraged God to bestow them immediately with the gift of pitch, or laryngitis.
We reached the piyyut L'el Orekh Din, and I turned my back on the congregation to face the open Ark. For the first time that morning I could take a deep, private breath and, no longer in the path of other voices, could hear my own. I looked at the words I was singing, about judgment, focus, and mercy, and realized I was being pretty useless as a messenger. Whether or not God judges me, I have no idea. But I judge myself, and knew that I could not bear to waste this gift and responsiblity of a few hours a year when voices follow and blend into mine with energy that bounces off and through me like an electric current.
I turned around to face the congregation and begin the Uvekhen. I waited for sounds from the first row, but could hear only my own. I looked up and saw Mr. Loud and Ms. Louder listening for the first time that morning, and so I did the same.
(Next, eventually: Yom Kippur.)
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