Anyone who has danced, played a sport, exercised at the gym, or sang more than one song knows that the body needs to be warmed up. We need to stretch ourselves, get our heart beating, and most importantly, focus our mind. From elite athletes and professional performing artists to the very amateur among us, no one would dare run a marathon without weeks or months of preparation, no one would sing in a choir or perform in a band without practicing the songs every day, and no one would attempt to climb Mt. Everest without first taking a few practice hikes. Our approach to the intense High Holy Days is no different. We need to have a warm-up regimen for these days.
Talk, Breathe, and Read, three things each of us can and should do before, during, and after High Holy Day services.
Talk: Find those precious moments with your loved ones, friends and family alike, to talk about what your goals are for Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur; talk about what your goals are for the new year; lastly, talk about what these days mean to you. If we don’t set some intentions before entering the sanctuary, these sacred moments might fly by us too fast to catch.
Breathe: We begin every Shabbat and every prayer service at Temple Emanu-El with intentional breathing. We do this to reset our bodies and souls for this space. Three deep breaths in and out and we can begin to relax. As we breathe our blood pressure lowers, our mind begins to put all the mishegas, all the nonsense, from our work to the side, and we focus on the most important task at hand: connecting with ourselves and with God.
Read: Our machzor, our High Holy Day prayer book, is an amazing piece of literature—explore it! As clergy, we have to make difficult decisions about what we as a congregation read, chant, and sing during services, and sometimes that means skipping profound poetry or moving prose. Take the time before and during services to explore your machzor and find new passages that strike you. I guarantee that you will be surprised by the diversity of writing and approaches to these days.
Talk, breathe, and read; these exercises are the perfect way to get spiritually in shape for the days ahead. We can only engage in the sincere efforts of reflection and repentance when we prepare ourselves for the days ahead.
May we enter the final Shabbat of 5779 with a sound body, mind, and soul that enables us to take on the new year with energy, devotion, and love. May 5780 be a year of greater intention and awareness as we renew our relationships with ourselves, our family, our friends, and God.
Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tova!