Thursday, August 22, 2013

Fast but not Too Fast

Growing up in Beer Sheva, Israel, I often attended the rehearsals and concerts of the Israel Sinfonietta - one of Israel's finest orchestras (no offense to the more famous Israel Philharmonic). At the time, it was led by Israeli maestro Mendi Rodan A"H but often they had guest conductors who led the rehearsals in English. In a rehearsal led by one such European conductor, I heard him issue an instruction that can be a great motto for reading a portion of this week's parsha, Ki Tavo

The orchestra was rehearsing a Beethoven symphony (can't remember which one), and it was a fast movement. Unhappy about their pace, the conductor stopped them in their tracks, and snapped, "This needs to be played faster!" So the orchestra went back and repeated the phrase, this time playing at a much faster pace. After a few bars, he stopped them again: "I said 'fast' but not 'too fast', let's play it again!" 

This phrase -- fast but not too fast -- stuck in my mind, and it's a great instruction for reading a long passage found in this week's parsha known as  the "tokhehah" or "Warning." 

These verses appear in the section dealing with the consequences of Israel's obeying or disobeying the terms of the covenant (Deuteronomy 28:1 - 28:69).  If they obey - many blessings will come upon them, enumerated in 13 verses of the section called "bracha" (28:1 - 13). But if they disobey - a long list of terrible tragedies will befall them, articulated in the next 56 verses known as the "tokhehah"! Many of these threats are gruesome, such as a terrible famine that will cause people to eat their sons and daughters, so naturally we don't want to dwell too much on these verses. 

Thus, a synagogue tradition emerged to read these 56 verses sotto voce (in a softer voice) and at a faster pace. Perhaps if we read them fast enough, they won't have a chance to stick to us:) But we do have an obligation to hear every word of the Torah reading - so the Torah reader should not go speeding. What is the compromise?  To read fast enough so we won't be demoralized  but not too fast to undermine the mitzvah of hearing every word. Precisely as that guest conductor said: Fast but not too fast!  

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