Artist: Thomas Eakins
The High Holy Days require us to set our intentions from the beginning. How do we want to change this year? What do we want to leave behind? We don’t know what this figure is writing, but perhaps we can imagine him embarking on a similar path of self-reflection and intention-setting. How will you write your goals this year? What would you want written about you?
Reflection from Rabbi Suzie Jacobson on the music of Kol Nidre.
[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Every year, we set our intentions for how we want to behave. We make promises to ourselves, to others, and to God. We do our best to uphold them but sometimes we fall short. Kol Nidre recognizes that we are only human, annulling vows we make to God in good faith but are unable to uphold. Notably, the statement does not apply to obligations we make to other human beings.
Mishkan HaNefesh, Rosh Hashanah p. 138
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.
1 Kings 19:11-13
“Come out,” God called, “and stand on the mountain before the Divine.” And behold, God passed by. There was a great and mighty wind, splitting mountains and shattering rocks by the power of God; but God was not in the wind. After the wind—an earthquake; but God was not in the earthquake.
After the earthquake—fire; but God was not in the fire. And after the fire—a soft sound of stillness.
And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his mantle about his face and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then a voice addressed him: “Why are you here, Elijah?”
וַיֹּאמֶר צֵא וְעָמַדְתָּ בָהָר לִפְנֵי יְהוָה וְהִנֵּה יְהוָה עֹבֵר וְרוּחַ גְּדוֹלָה וְחָזָק מְפָרֵק הָרִים וּמְשַׁבֵּר סְלָעִים לִפְנֵי יְהוָה לֹא בָרוּחַ יְהוָה וְאַחַר הָרוּחַ רַעַשׁ לֹא בָרַעַשׁ יְהוָה׃
וְאַחַר הָרַעַשׁ אֵשׁ לֹא בָאֵשׁ יְהוָה וְאַחַר הָאֵשׁ קוֹל דְּמָמָה דַקָּה׃
וַיְהִי כִּשְׁמֹעַ אֵלִיָּהוּ וַיָּלֶט פָּנָיו בְּאַדַּרְתּוֹ וַיֵּצֵא וַיַּעֲמֹד פֶּתַח הַמְּעָרָה וְהִנֵּה אֵלָיו קוֹל וַיֹּאמֶר מַה־לְּךָ פֹה אֵלִיָּהוּ
As Elijah stands before God, he bears witness to God’s awesome majesty as displayed through powerful feats of the natural world. But the text teaches that despite these grandiose moments being caused by the power of God, God’s true presence was not in the wind, the rock, the earthquake, or the fire. Instead, God speaks to Elijah in the stillness which follows, which many have interpreted as a voice coming from within the prophet himself.
The High Holy Days elicit a wide spectrum of energies throughout the Days of Awe, and great moments of physicality as we sing, pray, beat our chests, prostrate, and fast. These outward expressions of faith must be balanced by an internal recognition, a dedicated listening for the sacred sounds of stillness which speak to us as individuals. Only then might we hear a voice, challenging us to focus and reflect on the question “Why are you here?”