Praying and Impressing


Praying and Impressing


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Driving Humbly

© Andy Plotkin 2006

Last Friday night, our small fledgling temple chorus sang an entire Sabbath service with the rabbi and cantor. Despite the fact that our talents do not run deep, the chorus used its best voices as soloists, and the rest of us sang over our heads, beyond our abilities, sometimes even in three-part harmony. The congregants and trustees gave the chorus enthusiastic accolades after the conclusion of the service.

Driving to my home from our vocal triumph (okay, so it's a reform temple, in case anybody objects at this point in the telling of my incredible experience), I was humming a few of the chorus tunes, while congratulating myself for singing well. So proud was I that I began to talk out loud.

"What do you think? Pretty good performance, huh?" said I smugly to nobody in particular.

"You call that a performance?" came an unexpected soft reply, seeming to emanate from everywhere—and from nowhere. "That wasn't a performance."

"Wh-What d-do y-you m-m-mean?" responded I in a fright.

"Stop stuttering. I'm here to sanctify your life, not hurt you. Although, that's what'll happen if you don't watch the road! Look out!"

Whew, that was close, I said to myself after screeching to a stop. The face looking back at me in the rearview mirror was as white as baby powder. Beads of water trickled down my forehead. Heart pounding in my throat, hands shaking on the wheel, I expelled a long sigh, as my eyes rolled upward.

After I started the stalled car, and tenuously inched forward, the small voice returned, stating again, "That wasn't a performance."

"You didn't like it?" I asked incredulously.

"Of course I did. Thanks for the songs. They were great, but it's not a performance when you lead a congregation."

"Yes, I-I'm sorry. I guess we're just there to help lead the congregation in prayer. I should know better."

"You're on the right track now, but you're not 'just' there to help the congregation. What you did was very important—but it's not a performance for your glory. It's for theirs, for keeping the ages-old covenant of the Sabbath. And it's for your glory, too," the soft voice reminded, "but as a congregant, as someone who's praying, not because you're a singer or performer."

"So," I asked after several thoughtful seconds of silence had elapsed, "it doesn't matter how well we sing?"

"Well…yes and no."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean," the voice continued softly, "your chorus needs to sing well enough so that the congregants are directed to bringing justice into the world, and to praying with enthusiasm and intention. If you don't sing well enough, then the congregation focuses more on you, and then the people won't sing or pray. Strangely enough, if you sing too well, the same thing will happen, and the people will sit passively and not participate actively in the service. Got it now?"

"Yeah," I brightened. "I do. I really do."

"That doesn't mean that you shouldn't be proud of what you achieved. Just remember that your goal as a chorus is to help the congregants sanctify their lives by praying and celebrating the Sabbath, and not to be impressed with your singing."

"Wow, that's great. But how come you didn't tell me this before? I'm always talking out loud and you've never responded. Why now?"

"You didn't need help before this. But, when you became arrogant about your singing…well, that's when you needed help. I think perhaps you'll now realize that you need to stay humble. At the very least, while your head's in the clouds, maybe you'll make an effort to keep your feet on the ground, nu?"

"Yeah, nu," I chuckled. The lining of my stomach glowed with mirth. "Thanks."

"You're welcome. Shabbat Shalom," replied the small voice.

"Shabbat Shalom, God." I replied, almost inaudibly, tears clinging precariously to the rims of my eyes.

"Oh," the small voice said, "I almost forgot. Isn't tomorrow trash pickup in your town?"

"Yes," I responded, pulling into my driveway and turning off the car.

"Well, don't forget to put out the garbage."

* * * * *

You may visit Andy at his website


from the June 2003 Edition of the Jewish Magazine




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