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Speaking to the Soul: Diary of the Hazzan

Speaking to the Soul: Diary of the Hazzan

By Linda McMillan


INTRODUCTORY NOTE:  The following is what this temple leader may have written in his diary after Jesus visited his synagogue.

Sometimes I think it’s time to retire. I really do. That young fellow from Nazareth is so full of energy and new ideas, I wonder if I shouldn’t just leave it all in the hands of the next generation.  My own heart has been yearning for the reign of God so long that I’ve almost gotten used to the idea that it’s not going to happen in my lifetime. Maybe it will come to pass for Jesus and his generation.


I feel like a failure. Oh, sure, I keep the building in fine repair and teach the children their Torah lessons. Every week someone reads from the Torah scroll and someone offers a lesson, I make sure of it. The candles are lit, the ritual preserved, but not much has changed in the 36 years I’ve served this community. The Romans continue to press in on us, even out here in the countryside! It’s tiring, you know, holding together a community which is distracted by a thousand shiny Hellenistic things. I am old. I am tired. I wonder if I have much left to offer, or if I ever did. Maybe Jesus… maybe he’s the one.


Awhile back Jesus and some of his followers were at the synagogue in Nazareth. The hazzan there told me all about it. Jesus was just getting started in those days, and what he said was something like, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me… he hath anointed me to  heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives… to set at liberty them that are bruised.”  I remember thinking, “Well, get on with it boy!” And, yes, I thought it in that sarcastic way of which HaShem most likely does not approve. But, HaShem has not been working in this congregation for 36 long years.


When I heard about it, though, I immediately thought of our Sarah. Nobody really knows what happened to Sarah. But, one day, about 18 years ago, it just seemed as if she were carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders. She actually began to slump over. I know her parents spoke to her, and they spoke to me, and I spoke to Sarah… None of us could make any sense of it. I spoke to others and found out that Sarah blamed herself for something terrible. Over the years I have tried to defend Sarah against all accusations, but once in awhile something will crop up and people will say that she deserves her affliction. As the years went by, Sarah got more and more stooped over so that she could hardly see the sky. It broke my heart to see the playful girl I knew turn into an old woman before my very eyes. But, things continued to get worse. Just like I gave up on the reign of God, I slowly gave up on Sarah too.


But, yesterday… Oh, dear diary… Yesterday, that young whippersnapper, Jesus, came to our little synagogue. To be honest, even though he makes me feel old and inept, I like his message. He makes me feel hopeful again… reminds me a little bit of old Rabbi Hillel.  So, of course, I invited him to give us a d’var Torah on the paraha. How I longed to hear him talk about the reign of God. I wanted him to say something about justice rolling down, bonds being broken, captives finally freed. Sometimes I get tired of remembering our slavery in Egypt and I just want to think about how we were delivered with a strong arm, and I want to hear about how we will be delivered again!


But, before Jesus delivered the d’var Torah for which I longed, he called our Sarah up to the bimah and in an instant, a mere sliver of time, he did what I could not do in 18 years. He healed her.


We were all stunned. But for some reason, I was also angry. Why hadn’t God let me heal her? Why did she have to be stooped over for 18 years… Why? Why? Why this interloper? Yes, I like his message. And there is something about him. I actually like him. I believe in him. But, I’ve worked so long and so hard. Why couldn’t mine be the first face she saw?


It is selfish of me, I know.


Anyway, I spoke out in anger at Jesus, accusing him of breaking the Sabbath law against work found in Shemot 20:9-11. He is very smart, though, this young one. He didn’t tell me I was wrong, because I was not. But, he must have been paying attention during Talmud studies because he knows how to make an argument! Instead of confronting me, he opened the discussion to include our actual practice. And, honestly, it’s a more pastoral interpretation. It’s more like something Rabbi Hillel would have done. The Talmud does allow for exceptions. We do untie our oxen, and more! And we all remain Shabbat shomer (Sabbath observant). No problem.


I felt so ashamed. Even now my face burns with the memory of it.


I wonder if I really am a hypocrite, as Jesus said. I do hold on to my anger, I admit it. Sometimes it feels like all I have left. Ever since Rabbi Hillel died and Rabbi Shammai took over the temple, things have been different. I’m not making excuses, but has changed all of us, I think. Today I sounded more like Shammai than Hillel, whom I loved. Rabbi Hillel was so gentle and open to new interpretations, and he believed in the resurrection as do I. In fact, I hear the young Jesus saying some of the same things that Rabbi Hillel said! Maybe that is why I like him so much, and why I am so ashamed at the way I behaved. What would Rabbi Hillel say?


This evening when I thought of Rabbi Hillel, I realized that Shabbat is actually the perfect day for a healing. From now on, Sarah will remember her own bondage, and she will remember that Jesus did just what he said he was anointed to do. He healed her broken heart and gave liberty to her poor, bruised, and accused spirit. He raised her up with a strong arm. That’s what she will remember, and remembering is what Shabbat is all about. How could I have been so blind?


I wish Jesus would have called me up to the bimah. I need to be healed too. Honestly, sometimes it feels like I am as bowed down as our Sarah.


I wonder what Jesus would say to me?


The young rabbi has left me with many questions.


Until tomorrow, dear diary…



What do you think it means to be a son or daughter of Avraham?


Can you recall a time when you were in some kind of bondage and God delivered you?


What kinds of accusations torment and weaken your spirit? Would it help to remember that you are a daughter or son of Abraham? You are a child of God, beloved, and precious.


Can you see past people’s behavior and recognize them as brothers and sisters? Maybe tired, irritable, frustrated sisters and brothers, but united with you in the human family nevertheless?


Do you live in fear of being accused? Of what? Why?


What accusations do you put on yourself… In other words, in what ways are you your own satan?


Where is your hope?

Linda McMillan lives in Shanghai, China. She is a native Texan. Linda is currently visiting friends in Yangon, Myanmar/Burma. 


Image: Barbara Schwarz OP Where Art and Spirituality meet! Used by permission. Prints available for purchase through web site.


Some Notes of Possible Interest


In the first century, a hazzan was the person who was in charge of the synagogue, including worship.  He might also be the teacher or a worship leader, but any adult male would be able to read the scripture and give a sermon. The hazzan just arranged it all. You might say, he did the rota.


“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised,” (Luke 4:18, KJV)


Sarah was the matriarch of the people along side Avraham the patriarch.  That is why I’ve chosen to name this character Sarah.


D’var Torah means a talk about the Torah.


The Parsha is the reading for that week. It’s equal to what Christians call a pericope, or just “the reading.”


A bimah is a raised platform from which someone speaks in a synagogue. In the first century, it might not have been much more than a table on which the Torah scroll could be placed.


Eglon oppressed Israel for 18 years. Judges 3. It is likely that people would have remembered that.  What is less likely is that they would have associated the number 18 with Shabbat… we light the Shabbat candles 18 minutes before sunset. And they would not have known that the number 1 would come to be associated with the letter Yud, and the number 8 would come to be associated with the letter Het.
Het and Yud make the word chai, which you probably know is the Hebrew word for life. Did you know that it can also mean uncrooked!


Shemot is the Hebrew name for the book we call Exodus. Shemot means names. It is called that because “names” is the second word in the book and it is the second book. Exodus means going out.


Hypocrites hold on to their anger. “But the hypocrites in heart heap up wrath: they cry not when he bindeth them.” (Job 36:13, KJV)


In this context, “satan” does not refer to a person or being who does evil. That idea hadn’t fully blossomed yet. What it means is an accusation, or maybe a cluster of accusations.



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Suzanne Curtis

This was deeply meaningful and has left me in tears. I am printing it out so I can take some time to ponder on how I am both the temple leader and Sarah…

Barbi Click

I love the images this reflection invokes. I could see his anguish. I could feel his agony. The focus directed away from the woman included her yet offered a perspective that previously I had never heard or thought. I am not sure I ever would have.
It is so easy to yell, “Hypocrite!” to one with whom I disagree. But to see/feel that person’s angst is to change my own heart. It simply magnifies the idea that everyone has a story that needs to be told.

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