Some weeks ago I was sitting in a synagogue in the Upper East Side of New York on a beautiful May morning, listening to the beautiful words of Rosh HaShanah liturgy set to music during the Hava T’filah seminar for rabbis and cantors. Even the sound of the shofar pierced the air as a clergy team shared their model service with the group. In the very capable hands of the clergy and musicians of Temple Israel, eighty rabbis and cantors had gathered to pray the Rosh Hashanah Evening Service from the new CCAR Machzor, Mishkan HaNefesh. Yes, it was artificial by design. But it was real worship and so it was gratifying to see the book come to life.
As has been stated many times, Mishkan HaNefesh calls upon worship leaders to omit much of the service (there is enough material for many years) so that every choice you make is important. I call this the Trader Joe’s method. If you walk into Whole Foods in Lincoln Park, Chicago, you can get lost – there are way too many choices. Trader Joe’s, on the other hand, has just a few items in every category. By design, Mishkan HaNefesh is Whole Foods, offering you many options, but the worship service itself has to be Trader Joe’s. (Do not use this analogy on Yom Kippur).
The experience of the Rosh HaShanah service at Hava T’filah reminded me that the worship experience is very different than just the machzor itself. By all means embrace the machzor when preparing for the Days of Awe. But focus on the experience of the Days of Awe, allowing the machzor to be a sacred implement in your creation of the experience.
The great Bible scholar Uriel Simon once taught, in connection with Joseph, that a dream not interpreted is like an envelope not opened and a letter unread. I would argue that a machzor not employed in worship is the same.
What a pleasure it was to witness this sacred envelope being opened!