“Encountering the New High Holy Day Prayerbook”

Crowdsourcing Sermons: Contribute your Thoughts

by Rabbi Jill Maderer

For this summer’s sermons from July 3 through August 28, we’d like to incorporate your perspectives. The clergy will pose a question regarding the readings and interpretations in our new High Holy Day prayerbook, Mishkan Hanafesh at the beginning of each week and we encourage you to respond to that question by responding on the blog (rodephshalom.wordpress.com) or on Facebook (“friend” us!).  Your responses will help to inform our words in the sermon for that week.

Consider the last time a song, poem or piece of art deeply touched you. Have you ever read a Jewish text that cracked open your heart?  In preparation for the High Holy Days, the RS clergy have been engaging in the study of Jewish prayer and text from the new Machzor (High Holy Day prayerbook), called Mishkan Hanefesh.  Literally, Mishkan Hanefesh means “dwelling place for the soul,” and I believe the liturgy lives up to its title.  Our study of old prayers and new interpretations has sparked debate, opened us to new perspectives and most of all, has deeply touched us.

We can’t wait to share this prayerbook with you.  So we aren’t going to wait!  This summer, during our Friday evening Shabbat divrei Torah, we will teach different elements of the new machzor.  At the beginning of the week on website, facebook, blog and weekly email, we will pose a text or question for you to ponder.  We hope you will share some thoughts about it with responses to our blog and facebook, to continue the crowd-sourcing sermon approach we began last summer.  During Friday evenings in July, we will introduce prayers and commentaries that interpret liturgy recited regularly –everyday or on Shabbat.  For instance, the following prayer interpreting the Vahavta is found in the machzor but is not specific to the High Holy Days:

Love God with your mind:
Stay curious, open to questions;
Marvel at the wonder of what it.
Love God with your heart:
Stay alive to suffering and joy;
Yearn for the world that could be.
Love God with your strength:
Open your hands and give;
Work for the sake of what ought to be.

You can see the foundations of Vahavta—Love the Eternal your God with all your mind, with all your heart and with all your strength.  Yet this text expands the Vahavta with notions about what it means to love God with mind, heart and strength.  For me, line 5 alone, is deeply moving: stay alive to suffering and joy.
During Friday evenings in August, most of which takes place during the Hebrew month of Elul (the month offering preparation for the Days of Awe), we will introduce prayers that are more directly connected to our holy days.  Consider, for instance, this commentary on the Unetane Tokef prayer, written by Rabbi David Teutsch:
“In our everyday lives, we live with an illusion of control.  We guard our health by eating well, exercising, and getting regular check-ups.  We get ahead professionally by working hard and building effective relationships.  At the liturgical moment of Unetane Tokef, we are forced to admit how profoundly our lives can be altered by random occurrences over which we have no control…When these High Holy Days end, I may be lulled back into my false sense of security, the cocoon of my routine.  But today I feel my exposure, sense the danger inherent in life, re-encounter my mortality.  My end is dust.  I cannot control the unexpected blows that will affect my family, my job, my health, but I can control how I live with them…”

The Unetane Tokef liturgy is so challenging—sometimes too challenging—in its portrayal of the tragedy that might come our way.  Yet in this interpretation, Unetane Tokef isn’t cruel, it’s simply real, raw, giving us much to think about.
Finally, we will conclude the summer and enter into the High Holy Days together with the study of our machzor during our Selichot study session.

Many thanks to the Behrend family who’s generosity has made the purchase of the new books possible!   I look forward to studying with you this summer and to experiencing the new book together this fall.  May we allow ourselves to be moved, our hearts to be cracked open, that our holy days might become the dwelling place for our souls.