He had thought that his tall uncles in their dark clothes were princes of an elite brotherhood. He had thought the synagogue was their house of purification. He had thought their businesses were realms of feudal benevolence. But he had grown to understand that that none of them even pretended to those things. They were proud of their financial and communal success. They liked to be first, to be respected, to sit close to the altar, to be called up to lift the scrolls. They weren’t pledged to any other idea. They did not believe their blood was consecrated. Where had he got the notion that they did?
When he saw the rabbi and cantor move in their white robes, the light on the brocaded letter of their prayer shawls, when he stood among his uncles and bowed with them and joined his voice to theirs in the responses; when he followed in the prayer book the catalogue of magnificence —
No, his uncles were not grave enough. They were strict, not grave. They did not seem to realise how fragile the ceremony was. They participated in it blindly, as if it would last forever. They did not seem to realize how important they were, not self-important, but important to the incantation, the altar, the ritual. They were ignorant of the craft of devotion. They were merely devoted. They never thought how close the ceremony was to chaos. Their nobility was insecure because it rested on inheritance and not moment-to-moment creation based on annihilation.
In the most solemn or joyous part of the ritual Breavman knew the whole procedure could revert in a second to desolation. The cantor, the rabbi, the chosen laymen stood before the open Ark, cradling the Torah scrolls, which looked like stiff-necked royal children, and returned them one by one to their golden stall. The beautiful melody soared, which proclaimed that the Law was a tree of life and a path of peace. Couldn’t they see how it had to be nourished? And all these men who bowed, who performed the customary motions, they were unaware that other men had written the sacred tune, other men had developed the seemingly eternal gestures out of clumsy confusion. They took for granted what was dying in their hands.
But why should he care? He wasn’t Isaiah, and the people claimed nothing. He didn’t even like the people or the god of their cult. He had no rights in the matter.
— Leonard Cohen, The Favourite Game