It turns out I will not be leading services this Rosh Hashanah after all. In a way it's a relief; in another way, a disappointment. This is always the danger with expectations. I got attached to the fantasy of leading the community in prayer during the Days of Awe, and now I'm feeling a little bummed about having prepared for something I won't actually get to do.
It makes sense that the rabbi wants to lead High Holiday services himself, now that the baby is born and is healthy and well. The congregation expects him to lead High Holiday services. For the many who only attend shul during the Days of Awe, this is the only time this year they'll see him; they need to feel that their rabbi is doing his job. And he did tell me, back when we first discussed this, that leading Shabbat services is more fun than leading Rosh Hashanah services, because on Shabbat the crowd is more participatory. I've loved leading Shabbat services, and I imagine he's right that they're more fun, so part of me feels thankful that I get to do the fun stuff without having to do the hard stuff. I'm honored that he felt I was capable of handling Rosh Hashanah, in a crunch; that honor remains, even though the crunch didn't materialize. I still have some mixed feelings, though.
The change in plans is a mixed blessing. I'll have an easier time seeking the kavvanah (focus) that I desire, because I won't have to worry about bringing everyone else along with me...but still, my ego feels a little cheated. Like I'm missing my chance to shine, to show everyone what I'm made of. (Which is proof that I'm less enlightened than I'd like to believe: the Days of Awe are not about me shining.) I'm disappointed because I wanted to do something really nice for the rabbi and for the congregation, and now I won't get to.
The thing is, I did do something really nice for the rabbi and the congregation: I provided a Plan B, a way for the rabbi to worry less about the timing of the baby. I led services the weekend the baby was born. I made the offer of pinch-hitting on Rosh Hashanah if it were necessary, and that was the important part. That my services turn out not to be necessary doesn't negate that I made the offer -- nor that the rabbi accepted it. He thought I could do it, and that means a lot, even if I won't get the chance this year to prove him right.
As if to make up for the change in plans, the rabbi did just ask me to read an extra aliyah of Torah on the holiday's first day. So I'm reading a fair bit of Torah on Thursday; and on Friday I'll give the sermon. I'll enjoy both of those opportunities to contribute...and otherwise I'll sit with the congregation, davvening joyfully from my seat. In a way, this release from obligation is a gift: I know I'll enjoy services more for having studied the liturgy, so the preparation wasn't for naught. And once one moves up to running things, it can be hard to step back and enjoy them. This way I'm guaranteed the chance to step back and relax into the experience.
This morning a new Tel Shemesh newsletter popped into my inbox. Reading it, I was struck by a passage from Karen Enfield's drash on sacrifice:
To Jewishly connect with autumn and the days of Awe, the tree of life can be our inspiration and guide. As we anticipate the bright and beautiful foliage of the tree that will fall off and wither with the winds of change, let us think about what it is that we must let die in ourselves, creating a womb/void in which new life may grow and divine blessing can pour itself into....What beautiful golden leaf do we hold onto that is in fact, decay, that we need to let go of in order to grow? What is it that is dear to us that we will sacrifice this season for Yom Kippur to create an empty space within us that can be filled instead with Divine blessing?
Perhaps one of the things I can sacrifice this season is my need to be in charge; my need to stand out; my need to be praised for my learning and my efforts. May the Days of Awe help me learn that I don't need to perform in order for my offerings to be valid or to be received.