Each year, in the hours that lead up to Rosh Hashanah, I spend time with our High Holiday prayer book (machzor).
I have found that these hours in study of our liturgy allow me to be in relationship with not only the prayers, but the sanctity of the holiday.
I enjoy this time. It is sort of a ‘treat’, knowing that by being intentionally ‘open’ to the text, parts of our tradition will rise to the surface, where I can engage in a quiet, reflective manner.
This is a different experience than encountering the prayers during worship services. That tenor is one that is more charged and a quicker pace. They are both positive experiences, but the quiet time with our machzor is more intimate, more personal. It is a whisper instead of a shout.
Part of what I really enjoy are the meditative readings and side-page intentions, many of which we do not include in our Temple Emanu-El services due to limits in time. For this reason, they often feel like hidden ‘gems’, waiting to be found, if only I would notice them.
One such ‘gem’ appears in the Yom Kippur afternoon (minchah) service. It is based on Midrash T’hillim on Psalm 4:9.
Said the Holy One to Israel:
I asked you to pray in the synagogue of your city
But if you cannot pray in the synagogue,
Pray outdoors in an open field;
And if you cannot pray in the field,
Pray in the shelter of your home;
And if you cannot pray in your home,
Pray in the dark on your bed;
And if you cannot pray on your bed,
Meditate in your heart without words.
Most years I would have read this and likely past it over. This year, it speaks to me on levels societal and deeply personal.
I think that is the point of spending quiet time with the prayers. There is a trust, perhaps a faith, that the right prayers will surface for each of us when we need them most, and they will, if we let them, not only inform our spiritual orientation, but perhaps allow for momentary transcendence.
This year, for better or for worse, you will have more time to spend with your High Holiday machzor. Will you open its pages, and open your mind, to explore its paths and alleyways, its caverns and its vistas? Will you gift yourself the quiet time to journey?
To you, and your family, and the entire Temple Emanu-El community, I wish you a meaningful set of High Holidays, along with a blessedly sweet New Year.
…and Shabbat Shalom.