Why Do I Still Get So Nervous?

On Monday Vickie and I take a long train ride to Freiburg where I will have a talk about my books, ToraHighlights and What’s in It for Me? Finding Ourselves in Biblical Narratives. On Tuesday evening and Wednesday I will have the privilege of joining Cantor (Dr.) Annette Böckler of the Leo Baeck College in London in leading the community in worship for Yom Kippur. I am so very excited for these and the many wonderful opportunities coming up for us in Germany and later this month in Wroclaw, Poland.

Along with my excitement though, I will also be extremely nervous. Even after more than 50 years of speaking in public, I still get very nervous each and every time.

It was good to learn I am not alone!

About eighteen months ago, I presented the issue to my rabbinic colleagues on Facebook in this message:

Am I the only one who gets REALLY nervous every time I speak? I don’t really get it. I can’t count how many times I have spoken in public since I entered HUC in 1968 and even lots before that. And yet, whether it is Kol Nidre before a big crowd or 20 kids in a classroom, I get really nervous. I hope (and have been told often) that it doesn’t show—Baruch Ha-Shem—but I don’t fully understand why that happens. Any thoughts?

The fear might have begun with my Bar Mitzvah. I thought I would die (literally) before I could get up and read from the Torah. “You mean the scroll has NO vowels, and they expect ME to read it,” I exclaimed incredulously to my parents!

But then I did my first ever exercise in deductive reasoning. I thought:

  • Kids in my class who are older then I have celebrated their B’nai Mitzvah.
  • Some of them are dumber than I am.
  • All of them are still alive.

Vital Lesson Learned

Therefore, I reasoned, if I really practice and study hard, maybe I can make it. And I did.

The lesson has served me well all these years. I always try to be well-prepared, but that has never prevented me from getting very nervous. And so half-afraid that my colleagues would laugh at me, I posted my question.

To my surprise thirteen different colleagues affirmed, “You are not alone,” and several others clicked “Like” in recognition of my issue.

Although different people feel it to different degrees, the nervousness is a function of really caring about what we say and wanting it to have as much meaning as possible to those who listen.

A Small Price to Pay

Knowing that “it is not just me” who gets nervous was very reassuring. Thanks to my colleagues I embrace the nervousness I must overcome each time I speak and try to turn into energy and focus that makes my presentation more effective than it otherwise would be. The feelings will always be there, I realize a small price to pay for the sacred privilege of sharing both my experiences and the things I have learned over the years with others.





2 thoughts on “Why Do I Still Get So Nervous?

  1. I love this. I get nervous while preparing and imagining reactions, but the power of the spoken word invigorates me, excites me , especially when I feel the energy of those to whom I am speaking. I often begin to speak and then loose time, often in the zone until the last word which lingers in the silence.


  2. Thank you so much, Rabbi Edelman.I eagerly await the day when I can hear you speak in person! G’mar Hatima Tova to you and those fortunate to have you as their madricha!


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