Friday, July 16, 2010

Re-post - Avoiding the appearance of showmanship is also showmanship

Tomorrow will be the first Shabbat Chazon that I am off the bimah since 1996. This is significant for me; those who know me are aware of the emotional toll the Haftorah of Chazon takes on me, and how hard it was for me to lein it annually.

Below is a post I first published, on this topic, two years ago; I'm still mulling this one.
Once I landed on the bimah I was surprised to learn that somewhere inside me lurks a tendency to tear up. I cry on happy occasions and sad occasions. I cry when speaking at Kol Nidrei. I cry during Tefilat Geshem, especially if I am chazan (תולדותם נשפך דמם עליך כמים). I cry at Bar and Bat Mitzvahs.

Which brings me to the following incident: On the first Shabbos after it became clear that Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, ה' יקום דמם, had been killed, I stopped including their names in our shul’s prayer on behalf of hostages. That first week, I reached the spot where their names ought to have been inserted, and I just couldn’t go on. It took me a couple of minutes to be able to continue.

The following week, I received an email from someone assuring me that he believed wholeheartedly that what I had done was genuine, and not at all theatrical.

Of course, I now had to wonder: Did someone actually think that my crying was theatricality? Theatricality when crying over dead Israelis?!

Then, a couple of weeks later, I spoke in shul about a family who was moving out of our area. I have a longstanding emotional bond with this family. It was no surprise to me that I got choked up while speaking about them. But later I wondered: Did someone think that this, too, was rabbinic theatricality?

I don’t want to have people analyzing my tears and judging them authentic or phony, emotion or showmanship.

That discomfort shaped a decision I made this past week. In retrospect, think it was the wrong decision, but now it’s too late:

I cry every year as I read the Haftorah of Chazon. Some years it starts while I’m reciting the berachot, other years it waits for devastating lines like “מי בקש זאת מידכם רמוס חצרי, Who asked you for this, for you to come trample in My courtyard?” But it has happened pretty much every year, as best I can recall, since I started leining Chazon some fifteen years ago.

So this year, in the wake of that email and its implicit skepticism, I decided to ask someone else to read Chazon.

My replacement did a fine job on the Haftorah, and no one could see my emotion this year, but after having pondered my decision through Shabbat and Tisha b’Av, I think I was wrong to back out:

- Wrong for this specific case because, as I was told by a few people afterwards, my public emotion in reading Chazon helps them feel the impact of Tisha b’Av.

- Wrong in a more general sense because my crying is the “heter” allowing other people (yes, particularly men,) to express emotion in a public, religious context.

- And wrong a third time, because that email has, paradoxically, made me phony, or at least less authentic. That emailer convinced me I had to pretend not to cry; this Shabbat I was not the real me.

I’m still uncomfortable about crying, wondering what people think when they see the tears well up. But I don’t see that I have a choice. Gd-willing there will be no Shabbat Chazon next year… but if it should come up again, I’d like to think I would reverse this year’s reversal, and let the tears flow where they may.


  1. I am leining Eicha this year for the first time and when I practiced this week, I started tearing up and my voice cracked a few times. I got all nervous because I don't want to come off as putting on a show, but the emotion that I felt was real. I've been thinking for a few days about whether to repress it on Tisha B'Av night.

    Thanks for posting this and giving me the encouragement that I needed. I'm just going to lein and whatever happens happens. I can't control it if people think I'm exaggerating, but I won't let that interfere with any emotions that Eicha might stir up.

  2. I don’t want to have people analyzing my tears and judging them authentic or phony, emotion or showmanship.
    There are lots of things I don't want but that's the nature of the beast.

    There's someone I know who leins maftir Yonah each yom kippur and chokes up , especially on the line " Who knoweth whether God will not turn and repent, and turn away from His fierce anger, that we perish not?' " I think peoples' reaction as to his authenticity is likely a Rorschach test as to what people think of this individual in general.

    Joel Rich

  3. You should, lulei demistafina, go back to leining. And crying. People need to see emotions being shown.

    As they are devarim hayotzim (literally) min haleiv, only the worst cynic would see it otherwise.

    I say: To thine own self be true.

  4. I tend to get very emotional laining the tochacha (either one). Of course, the pesukim speak truth about the horrors yiddin have experienced since both churbanot till today, the Holocaust is still so close in memory, especially with regard to members of my family.

  5. deer-
    Thanks for commenting, and best of luck.

    ...or a Rorschacht test of what they think about themselves?

    I hear; thanks.

    Yes, I could see that the tochachah would be tough. I also have a tough time with Me'onah, because Moshe's death hits me hard.

  6. Bring them on, is all I can say. This is what they're for. G-d gave some of us a wide range of emotion, I think, so that we can teach others who do not have that gift (it sure doesn't feel like a gift, is the truth) the capacity to teach others that it is not only okay to cry, but it is appropriate to cry. We can talk about it or model it, however we do it, it's a good thing.

    And certainly, this time of year, we don't need much help at it.

  7. Thanks, Doc.

    Did you see the email I sent you the other day?

  8. Useful information you have shared with us.

  9. I once cried for 3 minutes in the middle of a mishebeirach for the soldiers...I am such a cry baby.Brad