Happy Torah prep
An afternoon in the City of Peace

Shabbat: prep pays off!

Today was, in many respects, a perfect Shabbat. First I had the pleasure of leading morning services at my shul; then my sweetie and I explored the town just south of where we live, and spent the afternoon at Hancock Shaker Village, so I got to contemplate the intersection of work and holiness pretty much all day. Those two things deserve separate blog posts, though, so here's the first half.

I woke early to prep the Torah portion, because I was nervous that I would stumble or that I wouldn't remember where the aliyot began and ended. I went early to shul, too, intending to spend a while poring over the scroll; perhaps unsurprisingly, my intent was thwarted by the fact that the board member with the key and alarm code didn't arrive until ten minutes before services were slated to begin! I got out the scroll as fast as I could and scrolled frantically over, over, over, and just as I was beginning to despair that I might not be able to locate the start of the portion before people arrived, voila! I took a deep breath, put the scroll away, and was calm and centered and wearing my tallit by the time the first congregants walked in the door.

It was a beautiful day, so we opened all three doors: the big doors at the front of the shul, and the two doors in the sanctuary that lead to the patio and the meadow and the trees and the mountains. By the end of the introductory blessings and the start of p'sukey d'zimrah (the service of psalms and poems that serves as a spiritual "warm-up" for the service proper), we had nearly a minyan; by the time we hit the Sh'ma, we numbered at least fifteen. In our small sanctuary, fifteen feels like a respectable crowd.

People sang with gusto. I chose the right key for everything. I got to give a few little iyyunim, teachings, about the liturgy as we went along. (Afterwards my sweetie noted that I lead a surprisingly pedagogical service, which made me happy.) One by one we moved through the elements of the service which were a challenge for me to lead in February the first time I did this -- the ashrei prayer, leading the Shabbat morning amidah -- and each one felt familiar to me, rolled right off my tongue.

And then came the Torah service. And to my tremendous, tremendous pleasure, it went off without a hitch. For the first aliyah, a passage instructing the children of Israel (upon crossing the river) to take stones and plaster them and carve the words of Torah on them, I invited those who want a sense of Torah as a concrete presence in their lives to say the blessings. For the second, a passage detailing the building of an altar of whole stones for the making of wholeness offerings, I invited up those who want help bringing their whole selves to bear on their lives (both prayer and mundane). For the third, a passage instructing the children of Israel to listen to the voice of God, I invited up those who want to better hear the voice of God in their lives. Each time people came forward; each time I read well; each time I blessed those who had come up. It felt great. And people had interesting things to say during the Torah discussion, too. I hadn't thought about how the Torah-inscribed stones are like mezuzot for the whole land.

Our shul has the minhag (custom) of blowing shofar even on Shabbat; we close services during the month of Elul with psalm 27 and with a shofar blast. But no one there today was actually capable of blowing it! So we went with my alternate plan: I called "tekiah," and the congregation answered me, making their own voices the instrument for spiritual awakening.

So yeah. It went well, and it left me faintly glowing in a way that's lasted all day. I'm really happy to feel this comfortable with the liturgy and with the congregation and with how they fit together.

Coming up next: a post about Hancock Shaker Village and the thoughts it sparked in me this afternoon. Shavua tov/a happy week to you all!

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