Divrei Mishkan HaNefesh, newly released by CCAR Press, is a compendium to the new machzor of the Reform Movement, Mishkan HaNefesh: Machzor for the Days of Awe. It is serving as a springboard for entering into the sanctuary of our souls with enthusiasm and helpful insights, exegetical and homiletical material, tips, guideposts, and indexes of poems and of biblical citations.
On the advent of the book’s publication, CCAR Press sat down with the editor, Rabbi Edwin Goldberg, senior rabbi at Temple Sholom of Chicago and coordinating editor of Mishkan HaNefesh, to talk a little bit about the creation, purpose, and content of the new compendium.
Q: Divrei Mishkan HaNefesh serves as a roadmap to the new CCAR machzor, Mishkan HaNefesh. What made you want to work on Divrei Mishkan HaNefesh?
A: When I was a young rabbi, there was a book to help me understand Gates of Repentance called Gates of Understanding II, edited by Rabbi Larry Hoffman. I thought someone should write some sort of compendium to explain the background of Mishkan HaNefesh, what I would call a midrash, if you will, or a commentary on the creation of the new machzor. That’s what we were going for. And it wasn’t just me. I invited all of the usual suspects—those who helped create the new machzor—to help make the commentary work.
Q: You refer to Divrei as a “midrash on the machzor.” How would you summarize the purpose of Divrei? In other words, the “why” behind the project?
A: After the High Holy days last year, I remember asking myself, “What do I know now that I wish I’d known before the High Holy Days?” I put everything I’ve learned into Divrei. Another one of the things that Divrei Mishkan HaNefesh does is put into book form what I’ve been sharing about the new machzor with colleagues for a number of years through presentations and conferences. It is like the teacher workbook to help other teachers present a better curriculum with the textbook (Mishkan HaNefesh). It is meant for preparation, as there is a lot more work to do for the High Holy Days besides just buying Mishkan HaNefesh. Divrei Mishkan HaNefesh helps the service leader prepare so that the machzor can be used as a sacred implement in the larger presentation of the High Holy Day experience.
Divrei answers the question, “Where did that come from?” The reader will find insights into the changes we’ve made to the traditional text, such as why we changed a word or two and why it’s important. We also want rabbis and cantors to know that we changed a word or two to make sure that they’re on the same page. It will make time spent preparing more efficient, and I think it will also give them answers to questions that, frankly, they may not even know to ask yet.
There are a number of innovations in Mishkan HaNefesh that we talk about in Divrei, including the additional Torah portions that we’ve included that have never been included in a High Holy Day prayerbook and why, and also some ideas for how one might write a sermon about that. There are certainly things that we couldn’t include in the actual machzor. So Divrei is a bridge to the machzor that helps people plan and execute their worship services and experiences.
Q: Divrei is split into three parts: Commentary, Essays, and Indexes and Tables. What is different about the content of Divrei versus the content of Mishkan HaNefesh?
A: When it comes to Divrei, one thing that’s very important to understand is that it is not full of commentary on the machzor or the High Holy Days because Mishkan HaNefesh itself has a lot of commentary in it. The point was not to create another book that models or reflects that, but to create additional material. I use an ancient commentator– Rashi’s explanation, what he included in his commentary on the Bible: “I am only adding what cries out, what cries out, ‘Explain me.’”
The book isn’t very long because we’re not trying to recreate the wheel. The first part of the book includes commentary that does not already appear in Mishkan HaNefesh. If something is already in the machzor, it is not repeated. The second part of the book includes more in-depth essays by myself and the other editors who were involved in the creation of the machzor so that one can gain a little more in-depth understanding of what the book is trying to accomplish. And there’s an amazing section at the end with all sorts of indexes that will really help people who need to find something in the machzor very quickly, in addition to giving them a lot more technical insight.
Q: This book is full of information pertaining to the new machzor, including background information concerning the perspective and choices of the editors of Mishkan HaNefesh, as well as extra material that isn’t found in the machzor. Who is the intended audience of this book?
A: Divrei Mishakn HaNefesh can be for anyone who wants to learn more about the High Holy Days. It can be for anyone who wants to learn more about Mishkan HaNefesh. It’s not only for the people who will be “driving the experience,” the rabbis and cantors and other people who will be leading the worship, but for anyone who will use the new prayerbook and wants to enhance their understanding of the High Holy Days.
Edwin Goldberg, DHL, is the senior rabbi of Temple Sholom of Chicago, editor of Divrei Mishkan HaNefesh: A Guide to the CCAR Machzor, and coordinating editor of Mishkan HaNefesh, the new CCAR machzor.