Today marked the 25th consecutive year that I have read the same Torah portion on Yom Kippur.
Twenty-five years. A quarter of a century. It is the same section at the same time. Year after year, like clockwork I know that in August I’ll get a call asking that I confirm that I’ll be available to read and every year I provide an affirmative answer.
And year after year I walk up to the bimah and realize that I have suddenly forgotten it all. Year after year I walk up with a terrible thirst and a parched throat. In a somewhat raspy voice I begin to chant and for a couple of minutes I am lost in the moment. As my grandfather of blessed memory would say, “I don’t sing well, but I sing loud.”
Over the years I have had the occasional mishap. Every once in a while I find that the scroll is not rolled to the proper section. About nine years ago I decided to ignore it and chant from memory and managed to screw up. So I had to stop reading and start over.
A short time afterwards I was in the bathroom when I heard two men talking. “Could you believe the nerve of that guy. Who does he think he is stopping in the middle like that.” I just smiled and walked out.
On this particular day I had a new experience. I was late to shul. I don’t know how I did it, but I lost track of time. I woke up, blinked and realized that there was no way that I was going to get to shul at the specified time.
Furthermore, the man who used to handle all of the arrangements died this year and I just knew that his replacement wouldn’t know me. Sure enough I got to shul and found people in a semi-panic. To give you a sense of how late I managed to come, I basically walked in threw on my tallis and was called up to read.
It wasn’t how I wanted to do it. It is a spiritual experience for me and I can’t just jump in.
I like to ease in. If you forgive the reference, I want a little foreplay. I want a few minutes to wipe out my thoughts of the outside world so that I can really put my heart into it.
But sometimes you have to roll with the punches. So up I went and I did my thing. It went fine, no problem and I forgot about it, for a little while.
My little dreamworld was interrupted by the entrance of my bar mitzvah tutor, Mr. D. He asked me if I had missed reading and I said no that I had not.
And then he said that he didn’t think so because I have been doing this for 25 years so of course I know what time I am supposed to be there. Oy, who would have thought that 25 years later he could give me the old teacher stare and make me feel like the silly student, but he did.
BTW, outside of my family I am not sure that anyone knows how long that I have been reading. Part of me was a little surprised that he still remembered, but then again he always seemed to remember everything.
Twenty-five years ago I hated that. Twenty-five years ago it was immensely uncomfortable and irritating. Twenty five years ago I wanted him to just back off and let me be. But now I thank him for it. Truth is, even though I felt foolish I didn’t get upset as I know where he is coming from. I suppose that you could say that I have a soft spot in my heart for him.
And that is my post YK Torah reading story, rough on the edges and in need of a good polish.