|Timothy Dalton (Mr. Rochester), Jane Eyre, 1983/BBC|
This bit of literary hyperbole, courtesy of Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, is on my mind this time of year.
On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur my cantor colleagues and I draw on every ounce of strength that we can muster. We may find ourselves teetering on the edge of a massive emotional cliff, so wrapped up in the power of the words and the beauty of the music that we feel like we're about to head into a dark territory and maybe not be able to hold ourselves back. We stand on that crater crust, praying that it holds.
My teacher, Cantor Faith Steinsnyder, warned us about these moments. Give the prayers, music, and words our all, yes; but hold something in reserve. And when we do feel so emotionally involved that we think we're headed over that cliff's edge, we force ourselves to dial everything back. If we go over that edge, we do ourselves and our congregations a disservice. Yes, we serve the text, and we are the transmitters of a great tradition. But we are equally guardians of that transmission. To hurl ourselves through the cracks of the crater crust betrays that trust.
So yes, we give most everything we have through that final t'kiyah g'dolah at the end of Yom Kippur. But we don't give everything; we maintain a small reservoir of restraint.
"Give it all you got" is a great slogan. "Leave it all on the plate," is the refrain we hear on tv cooking competitions.
And indeed, give of yourself and then give more of yourself.
But don't give it all ... save some for yourself.