Blog: September 2015

Most of these posts were originally posted somewhere else and link to the originals. While this blog is not set up for comments, the original locations generally are, and I welcome comments there. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Ruach service

I've written before about the alternate service my congregation has on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, the Ruach service. It's very much in the style of our Shabbat minyan -- musical, participatory, full of spirit, and way more traditional than the Reform norm. Originally my rabbi led this service, though a few times he had to leave early (to be at the main service) and said "Monica, take over" -- once with a new prayer book I had not seen before, with the high-holy-day-only special liturgy. (I love the trust he places in me but that one was "exciting".) Then last year he couldn't be there at all and asked me to lead it along with somebody else. The other person was, to put it mildly, quite problematic.

This summer we hired a new associate rabbi and she's been coming to the Shabbat minyan and enjoying it. My rabbi asked the two of us to lead this service. I'm very pleased that he kept me as part of this; it would not have been completely unreasonable (in our congregation) to say that when we have an actual rabbi, the lay person is no longer needed.

We'd only led one service together (a minyan service when the senior rabbi was out of town), but it turns out that she and I work really well together. It usually takes people collaborating on services a little more time to start developing the "hive mind" where things just go. (Yes, of course there's a lot of prep involved, and sticky notes in the book for who's doing what in places, but even with that, services led by people who aren't used to working together often don't look smooth.)

Rosh Hashana was last week and the service went very well. It flowed, it wasn't rushed, and we finished exactly on time. We got lots of compliments. Yom Kippur is Wednesday and I expect we'll have even more people then. I feel really good about this.

Also, chanting Unataneh Tokef on Rosh Hashana clicked for me. I don't mean musically (though that too); I mean the text. This is a grave prayer and I felt it in a way that I haven't felt it when merely reading or listen to it. Oh Rosh Hashana it is written and on Yom Kippur it is sealed: who shall live and who shall die, who shall be content and who troubled, and so on. Since Rosh Hashana I have attempted to do teshuvah for some specific things, and I hope that come Yom Kippur, when I chant this same text again, I will feel I succeeded.

Yoma chapter 1

In honor of the season, a teaching from the first chapter of Yoma in the talmud:

On Yom Kippur we read about the service of the kohein gadol (high priest) on Yom Kippur, when he enters the Holy of Holies, pronounces the divine name, and seeks atonement for the people of Israel. The mishna in the first chapter of Tractate Yoma describes what happens before that:

Seven days before Yom Kippur they remove the high priest from his house and move him to the cell of the counselors. Another priest is prepared so that, should something happen to the high priest, another can take over. A substitute wife is also prepared for the high priest lest his wife die, because the torah says he makes atonement for himself and his house, and "his house" requires a wife. (But only one wife because it says "house", not "houses"; there is some complexity in the discussion here.)

During these seven days they provide elders of the beit din (rabbinic court), who read before him the order of the service and urge him to memorize it, because perhaps he forgot or never learned. On the day before Yom Kippur they bring before him all the animals that will be offered, so he will recognize them and be familiar with what is to be done. Late in the day leading up to Yom Kippur they prevent him from eating much, lest he eat too much and fall asleep. They then take him to the elders of the priesthood and make him swear that he will not change a single thing from what they have taught him. Then he (if learned) or others (if not) would expound on torah, and read from Job, Ezra, Chronicles, and sometimes Daniel. And they would keep him up all night occupied with torah.

(It may sound like they're treating him as a child or an ignoramus. Perhaps they are (under Roman rule the position of high priest was sold to the highest bidder, for instance). But it's also important to remember that this service is essential for the people's relationship with God and that we've seen what happens when instructions for service aren't followed correctly -- Aharon's sons Nadav and Avihu brought aish zarah, an "alien fire", and were struck down. Had they been representing the whole people, what might have happened? Even the most learned must study the haggadah at Pesach, and even the most learned high priest must study the Yom Kippur service.)

Memories of Countess Aidan

I met Countess Aidan ni Leir when I became Chronicler for the East Kingdom. I'd been active in the SCA for some years by then, including having been chronicler for my local barony for four years. Our barony was, at the time, somewhat isolated from the main body of the East: aside from Pennsic the bigwigs didn't come here much, and I hadn't been to much of the rest of the kingdom then. I was an experienced writer, editor, and publisher, but working at the kingdom level with its attendant quirks and politics was new. So becoming a kingdom officer had something of a feel of a kid from hicks-ville moving to the big city.

My predecessors in the job helped guide me, and there were people in the local group with more kingdom-level experience. But regular contact with the Kingdom Seneschal was especially helpful. That seneschal was Countess Aidan.

Adian had been royalty (hence the title) and had worked with royalty for years, and from her I learned how to handle them. I knew that just because a guy has a crown on his head doesn't mean what he's saying is reasonable, but that guy with the crown could also fire me. And sometimes the other kingdom officers had unreasonable expectations; I remember one officer who sent something like ten pages of advice for the space-constrained "laws and policies" issue, who didn't take kindly to my saying that that was really too much and I'd need him to cut that down to just the part that was actually, you know, laws and policies, and I was expecting more like a page or two, not ten. Aidan taught me some useful things about diplomacy -- but also about when to wield the stick and just say "no" -- clearly and politely, in a way that would survive escalation.

One of my funniest memories of Aidan is a conversation we had, oh, maybe two years into my stint as chronicler. This was an actual phone call, not email (email still wasn't ubiquitous then, though she had it), so I remember her tone of voice too. I was talking about the accumulation of different kinds of paperwork -- reports from the local groups, my quarterly reports, stuff from other officers that wasn't newsletter submissions, minutes from board meetings, correspondence of lots of different types -- and how I was having trouble organizing it usefully. Did she have any advice? She said the way she handled that kind of stuff was to make one big pile, and every now and then stick a marker in with the month and year. If you ever actually needed any of that stuff that was probably good enough, but... she left the sentence incomplete.

I in fact didn't need the vast majority of that stuff (though there were expectations of keeping records). I tried to neaten it up some before passing the office on to my successor. I also passed on the advice.

At the time Aidan lived in New York. Several years ago she moved to my barony so I got to see her more, though not as much as I now realize I wish I had. Aidan was friendly (yet did not suffer fools), highly competent, and fun to be around. I'll miss her.