Just Like Last Time?
It’s not a performance.
Just keep going; no one is perfect.
The number of times I have offered one of these platitudes to a student must surely number in the thousands. Which is why, when telling them to myself, I found them empty. Unsatisfying. Mocking, even.
Don’t let one bad chanting get you down.
It’s in the past; let it go.
The circumstances are different; you’ll be great.
No matter what words of encouragement came to mind, I just couldn’t shake the feeling that I was going to screw up this Torah chanting like last time. Just like last time…
Each synagogue has its own minhag, its own custom, when it comes to the reading or chanting of Torah. In more traditional settings, the reader (or chanter) will be publicly corrected if he (or she) mispronounces a word. This is done out of respect for our sacred Text; each word is meant to be read the way that it is meant to be read. No variations. How this done, however, varies from place to place. In some shuls, the gabbai quietly pronounces the misspoken word and the reader goes back and says it correctly. Other places are less concerned with protecting the pride of the reader and every wisenheimer, from his seat no less, will shout out the correct pronunciation in what results in a cacophony of indistinguishable syllables.
The Reform movement has historically taken a different approach. We find a teaching in the Talmud (Baba Metzia, 58b) that states: He who publicly shames his fellow it is as though he has shed blood. Holding that shaming the reader would be considered worse than accidentally mispronouncing a word, the reader is not publicly corrected in order to prevent embarrassment. Additionally, and this applies most especially to inexperienced chanter, shouting out the correct word can completely throw the chanter off his or her game.
Now when it comes to the chant, my teacher, Dr. Eliyahu Schleifer, taught that there is no Halakhic basis for making a correction should the chanter sing the melody incorrectly.
But, as I said, every synagogue has its own customs…
I have only chanted in a Conservative synagogue two times in my life. The first time was such a disaster that it took me quite some time to recover from the experience. And to make it worse, that disaster was at the aufruf of JockBro and Syl.
Parashat Chukat. I had carefully and lovingly prepared my reading. I knew that portion. I knew that portion backwards, frontwards, upside-down. I had been working it over and over again. I did a practice read from the scroll the day prior to Shabbat. My confidence was not misplaced.
I was not the only reader that Sabbath morn. Nor was I the only reader to make mistakes. I was, however, the only out-of-town reader. And while the other readers’ mistakes went uncorrected, my reading was singled out for any misstep of word, melody, or even properly stated words. It was humiliating. And I felt as though I had embarrassed my brother in front of his soon-to-be makheteyneste.
Fast forward three years: I have been asked to chant one of the aliyot at the Bat Mitzvah service of one of PC’s cousins. Parashat Re’eh. It is a long section. I spend no less than five weeks preparing the reading.
I was not the only reader that Shabbat morn either. I was preceded by the father of the Bat Mitzvah. He’s Israeli. With a mesmerizing Yemenite trope.
It is my turn. And it is nothing like last time.
Remembe(RED) is a memoir meme. This week’s prompt was a fill-in-the-blank-for-your-own-prompt Prompt:
The first time I ________-ed after _________-ing. In order to keep it tightly written, a limit of 600 words. Mine came in at 598. It was not my intention to write about Torah chanting so soon after my post from two weeks ago. However, memoir prompts take us where THEY want us to go. Six years after that disastrous reading and I still feel the sting of humility. As always, constructive criticism is welcomed!