An 8-Step Journey Through the High Holy Days

with a Mishkan HaNefesh Lens

Finding Your Space : Mishkan HaNefesh

 

Mishkan HaNefesh, Yom Kippur p. 198

We know the immense power of joining together in communal prayer. But, our tradition also affirms the sacred act of personal connection. With this text, we connect with generations before us who have found deep spiritual meaning in taking time to be alone with the Holy One. Wherever your find yourself at this moment, how can you create sacred space for this private encounter?


In the depths of night, by the edge of the river,
Jacob was left alone.
In heartfelt longing, in the temple of God,
Channah uttered her prayer alone.
In the barren wilderness, in doubt and despair,
Elijah found God alone.
On the holiest day, in the Holy of Holies,
the High Priest entered alone.
We are bound to one another in myriad ways,
but each soul needs time to itself.
In solitude we meet the Solitary One;
Silence makes space for the still small voice.
For the Psalmist says: “Deep calls unto deep.”
From the depths of our soul, we seek what is most profound.

Excerpts from Mishkan HaNefesh: Machzor for the Days of Awe © 2015 are under the copyright protection of the Central Conference of American Rabbis and used by permission of the CCAR. All rights reserved.

Praise: Mishkan HaNefesh

 

Mishkan HaNefesh, Rosh Hashanah, p. 127

What constitutes a miracle? Do we reserve that word exclusively for events like the parting of the Red Sea? Or, can we see, as Whitman does, miracles in every moment of every day? How might our lives change for the better if we started seeing the miraculous and the divine in every facet of creation?


Why! Who makes much of a miracle?
As to me, I know of nothing but miracles.
Whether I walk the streets of Manhattan,
Or dart my sight over the roofs of houses toward the sky,
Or wade with naked feet along the beach, just in the edge of the water,
Or stand under trees in the woods,
Or talk by day with any one I love –
or sleep in the bed at night with any one I love,
Or sit at the table at dinner with my mother,
Or look at strangers opposite me riding in the car,
Or watch honey-bees busy around the hive, of an August forenoon,
Or animals feeding in the fields,
Or birds – or the wonderfulness of insects in the air,
Or the wonderfulness of the sun-down – or of stars shining so quiet and bright,
Or the exquisite, delicate, thin curve of the new-moon in May. . . .
These, with the rest, one and all, are to me miracles. . . .
To me, every hour of the light and dark is a miracle,
Every inch of space is a miracle. . . .
Every spear of grass – the frames, limbs, organs, of men and women,
and all that concerns them,
All these to me are unspeakably perfect miracles.

Excerpts from Mishkan HaNefesh: Machzor for the Days of Awe © 2015 are under the copyright protection of the Central Conference of American Rabbis and used by permission of the CCAR. All rights reserved.

Setting Intentions: Mishkan HaNefesh

 

Mishkan HaNefesh, Rosh Hashanah p. 16

The Hineni prayer is traditionally recited by the community’s prayer leader, humbly acknowledging their inadequacy to properly lead the community through such a significant moment. This interpretation of the prayer is recited by the individual as they prepare for the High Holy Days and the soul-searching self-evaluation which lies ahead.


Here I am,
one soul within this prayer community.

Like those around me, I bring my own concerns and yearnings
to this place,
hoping they will find expression in the time-hallowed words
of my people and in the traditions cherished by generations
before me.
May I bring the best of my energies to these Holy Days,
approaching this spiritual work with open heart and mind,
sincerity, and sustained focus on the deep questions of
this season:
Who am I? How shall I live? Where have I fallen short —
or failed?
This night I take up the challenge of the Days of Awe:
   chesbon hanefesh — a searching examination of my life,
a moral inventory of my deeds, words, and thoughts.
During the next ten days,
let me face the truth about myself and listen to Your still,
small voice.
Taking comfort in Your promise that I am always free to change,
released from staleness and routine,
let me know the joy of beginning again.
May I gain strength as I share this task with those around me,
united by our common purpose:
   tikkun midot (improving our characters) and tikkun olam
   (repairing the world).

I now prepare myself to pray — one soul amidst this holy
congregation.

Excerpts from Mishkan HaNefesh: Machzor for the Days of Awe © 2015 are under the copyright protection of the Central Conference of American Rabbis and used by permission of the CCAR. All rights reserved.

Vulnerability: Miskhan HaNefesh

 

Mishkan HaNefesh, Yom Kippur, p. 209

This year of all years, we are acutely aware that we are vulnerable. The language of the High Holy Days may come from another era, but the message rings as true as ever. Whether we admit it or not, we walk through our lives exposed and susceptible. The call to “take hold of your life” is here and it is urgent.


Today we call it by its rightful name:
A Day of Dread – nora v’ayom.
Unwelcome visitor, for we want to live
in a sunny world where God is love
and all endings are happy.

But the drumbeat sounds
and the words tumble down
and even the angels tremble with fear.
For all things are judged
and all things will pass
and life ends in a heartbeat,
and death knows our name.

At the start of the year,
in the season of truth,
comes the Day of Remembrance
for all we forget
and all we deny;
and we fall on our knees
in the depths of our hearts
for we know that the bell tolls
for us.

The words are old and the language was theirs,
but the call is real and the message is ours:
Take hold of your life
while you still have the chance;
for your story will end
and it might be this year
in a way you don’t know.
Take hold of your life:
make things right while you can;
and don’t miss the call of the Day of Dread.

Excerpts from Mishkan HaNefesh: Machzor for the Days of Awe © 2015 are under the copyright protection of the Central Conference of American Rabbis and used by permission of the CCAR. All rights reserved.

Majesty: Mishkan HaNefesh

 

Mishkan HaNefesh, Rosh Hashanah p. 138

This text focuses on a small but meaningful High Holy Day adaptation in the HaMelech prayer. It is a prayer which we do not recite in our regular Temple Israel tefillah, which makes this stirring depiction of God as a ruling sovereign all the more vivid and impactful for these Days of Awe.


MAJESTIC GOD, TODAY ENTHRONED המלך יושב על כסא.

Throughout the year, this prayer describes God as HaMelech hayosheiv — literally, “the Sovereign who sits [on a throne].” On Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, the wording changes to a dramatic proclamation: HaMelech yosheiv — literally, “the Sovereign is sitting [on a throne].” This small and often unnoticed change evokes the immediacy of God’s presence of the Days of Awe. These words announce: “Court is now in session”; on this day, we are summoned before the Sovereign of the universe who sits in judgement of our deeds. Like all human images of God, this one cannot be taken as a literal description. Yet it conveys the sense we share with our ancestors that we are accountable for our actions, responsible to a Power beyond ourselves.

Excerpts from Mishkan HaNefesh: Machzor for the Days of Awe © 2015 are under the copyright protection of the Central Conference of American Rabbis and used by permission of the CCAR. All rights reserved.

Forgiveness: Mishkan HaNefesh

 

Mishkan HaNefesh, Yom Kippur, p. 293

All of us have made mistakes this year and we have also made excuses. We have acted selfishly and we have behaved callously. We yearn to be better, to walk through this world in accordance with the values that we hold in our hearts. We begin that process by admitting where we have missed the mark and praying for the strength we need to return to a righteous path.


Because I was angry
Because I didn’t think
Because I was exhausted and on edge
Because I’d been drinking
Because I can be mean
Because I was reckless and selfish
Because I was worried about money
Because my marriage was dead
Because other people were doing it
Because I thought I could get away with it
Because. . .

I did something wrong.

Because I’m in pain
Because I wish I could undo it
Because I hurt him
Because I lost her trust
Because I let them down
Because I was self-destructive
Because I was foolish
Because I’m ashamed
Because that’s not who I am
Because that’s not who I want to be
Because. . .

I want to be forgiven.

God,
bring down my walls of defensiveness and self-righteousness.
Help me to stay in humility.
Please –
give me the strength to do what’s right.

Excerpts from Mishkan HaNefesh: Machzor for the Days of Awe © 2015 are under the copyright protection of the Central Conference of American Rabbis and used by permission of the CCAR. All rights reserved.

Closing of the Gates: Mishkan HaNefesh

 

Mishkan HaNefesh, Yom Kippur, p. 621

This poem captures the urgency of the final moments of Yom Kippur. We feel the sun begin to set and gates begin to close. Yet we still plead for closeness, for compassion. The personal work of this season is strenuous and we are exhausted. But our time has not yet run out, as we yearn for one more chance to right our wrongs, to commit to a life centered on justice and compassion.


Just a moment –
a shaft of sunlight
in the fog,
a shift of mind and heart,
a breath of peace.
Just a moment –
that’s all I ask:
to feel You there.
to know Your touch,
to see the truth
behind these words we speak.
At the end of this long day –
one last chance to stand before You.
Exhausted as I am,
I still have hope.
Just a moment –
let me pray.

Excerpts from Mishkan HaNefesh: Machzor for the Days of Awe © 2015 are under the copyright protection of the Central Conference of American Rabbis and used by permission of the CCAR. All rights reserved.

Shofar: Mishkan HaNefesh

 

Mishkan HaNefesh, Rosh Hashanah p. 136

As we are commanded to hear the blast of the shofar, we reflect on the emotions the sounds stir within us. This poem celebrates the sound of the shofar, placing the moment in our individual lives and the history of the collective Jewish people.

 

“Belonging to Israel is in itself a spiritual act.”

-Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Blessed are we, blessed our gathering,
as we open our hearts to the voice of the shofar.
Happy are we
who hear its call to return –
the sacred trumpet of t’shuvah.
Blessed are we
held close by an ancient sound
that echoes l’dor v’dor
from generation to generation.
Happy are we
who know its embrace,
its season of celebration,
its quest for connection and purpose.
Holy is the gift of community,
blessed the act of belonging.
Excerpts from Mishkan HaNefesh: Machzor for the Days of Awe © 2015 are under the copyright protection of the Central Conference of American Rabbis and used by permission of the CCAR. All rights reserved.