Tuesday, December 15, 2009

869. The right place

Last Shabbat morning I chanted the maftir (extra section specific to the holiday), this week about the offerings at the Tabernacle (a usual collection of rams, lambs, goats, silver, etc.). The first batch, read on the first day of Hanukkah, was from Nachshon ben Aminadav, the same Nachshon who made the first leap into the about-to-part Sea of Reeds. Inaugurating that journey certainly merits the honor of being at the front of the line.

One of the most stressful parts of Torah reading for me has been simply finding my place within a forest of letters on tall, narrow parchment cliffs. Generally, the previous reader places the yad above the place where he or she left off, but it tends to roll away by the time I step over to the bima (and if not then, definitely when the scroll is closed as the person having the aliyah says the blessing). Ideally, I will have already glanced at the beginning of my portion and seared its position into my brain, so when the sefer Torah re-opens my eyes can zoom to the right place. But life is rarely ideal. More often, long seconds tick by as I scan the rolling ocean of letters in search of the particular one that needs to keep me afloat; a rabbi or two will jump in if I begin to sink. We always find it, and I've learned not to panic or tell myself, "Hey, you've looked at those words A MILLION TIMES already. They are right in front of you now, fool," because I've seen the Torah reading word-search dilemma affect even those who can recite the whole Torah by memory, like my rabbis.

This week was almost too easy; the maftir came immediately after the priestly blessing, which is written in the scroll in three distinctive, stepped lines (kind of like the traditional hand position used by the priest as he said it). Despite my tendency to sink into self-doubt, I've come to appreciate those moments where it's not so easy, and two, three, four bodies need to pore over the scroll to find the right place. They're demonstrating what we should all do—turn those words over and over until we figure out where and how to begin our own particular portions of life.


Laura said...

These words jumped out at me: "...finding my place within a forest of letters on tall, narrow parchment cliffs". I know you meant them literally here...but for me that's always what reading Torah is about...finding my place in the letters...where am I in this story? And usually I'm there somewhere in a parasha if I look hard enough.

chag urim sameach,

alto artist said...

Yes--I need to remember that, as well. It's all too easy to forget that all the words--the questions as well as the answers--are right in front of us in the Torah, as long as we remember to look.

Shabbat Shalom!