This is a short kavannah (intention) that I wrote for my synagogue about being prepared, or not.
For much of my life, the afternoon of Yom Kippur was a time to burrow into the couch and count the minutes until dinner. But after I came to [my synagogue], I discovered in those few hours a most intense and meaningful part of the day.
At all other services, we reach the Torah reading after a peaceful ascent though psalms and prayers. We have time to take a deep breath and prepare for the pageantry and complexity that follows. At Minha on Yom Kippur, however, we dispense with those preliminaries. Whether we’ve returned to services after a nap or meditation, or just hanging out, the holy day—like the Senate during a summer break—despite having paused, is still in session. So now there’s no warm-up. The Ark opens—“Vayehi binsoa ha'aron vayomer Moshe!”—and like metal filings to a magnet we rush to the scrolls, cradled in tired arms as they make their way around the sanctuary.
When I’ve had the privilege of helping lead Minha as a hazzanit, this sudden moment is also when I start to sing. I’m never quite sure what will come out: will I sound exhausted and tentative, betraying questions not yet resolved? Or strong, reflecting answers just discovered? It's usually a combination, as I find my bearings. That abrupt initiation of prayer and voice, even when I don't feel ready for either—and then discovering I'm just fine, no matter what—always seems like a metaphor for the year to come. Minha may be the beginning of the conclusion of Yom Kippur, but it’s also first step of the unexpected journey that follows.