“We post-moderns need a corrective, a “reset” that centers us in a context of what matters most,” writes Rabbi Edwin Goldberg, one of the Editors of our new Machzor, our High Holy Day prayer book.
It is so true. Life proceeds at such a fast pace. The world whirls by; events -often big, significant events – happen one after another, and we barely have time to respond. Sometimes, it’s all we can do to get bills paid on time or run to the post office; how could we possibly find the time to write a letter to the editor, go for a leisurely walk with a friend, or volunteer at the local food bank?
Rabbi Goldberg continues: “Life, many of us deem, is a problem. Jewish text and tradition . . . [presented through the medium of] a meaningful, relevant High Holy Day experience-can be a captivating and vital solution.”
I don’t quite think that Life itself is the problem. Rather the problem is how we are living our lives. Too often, for many of us at least, our lives feel out of control, off kilter; we don’t have the balance we want: sufficient time for family, for play, for civic engagement, for rest, for simply being present to our loved ones, to others, to ourselves. We do need a reset button, to re-center us, to bring us back to what matters most. Without it, our lives might end up speeding out of control, and we shall arrive at the end of this life journey, and look back and say: how did I get here? Is this really what I wanted my life to look like?
Rabbi Goldberg reminds us that Mishkan HaNefesh was designed as a sacred tool for exciting and transformative worship. “What matters is not “mastering” the book, he writes, “but rather, allowing the book to help us experience transformative, sacred moments.”
In other words, it is transformation that is the goal of these holy days. Personal and collective transformation. Our goal is not merely fulfilling our obligation to recite the Shema, or hear the Shofar, or chant Avinu Malkeinu. It is to experience transformation-not just for the sake of our own personal spiritual enlightenment, but for the sake of the world.
How might the world be different tomorrow as a result of our gathering together over the Yamim Noraim, the Days of Awe? How might the world be different if we do the important work our tradition asks us to do? Those are really the questions for us to ask and to hold, as we enter into this special time. The High Holy Days, and the prayers and rituals that comprise them, are vehicles for helping us to grapple with these questions. They are not ends, but means. They help us transform ourselves, and hopefully, by doing so, the world around us.
Along with wishing everyone a L’shanah Tovah u’metukah, I wish us all the possibility of transformation. May the world be a better place because of our efforts.