One of the most emotionally heart-tugging prayers and melodies of the High Holy Days is a petition called Sh’ma Koleinu. In a beautiful new translation in the forthcoming Mishkan HaNefesh, we pray:
Hear our call, Adonai our God. Show us compassion
Accept our prayer with love and goodwill.
Take us back, Adonai; let us come back to You; renew our days as in the past.
Hear our words, Adonai; understand our unspoken thoughts.
May the speech of our mouth and our heart’s quiet prayer
Be acceptable to You, Adonai, our rock and our redeemer.
Do not cast us away from Your presence, or cut us off from Your holy spirit.
Do not cast us away when we are old; as our strength diminishes,
Do not forsake us.
Do not forsake us, Adonai; be not far from us, our God.
With hope, Adonai we await You;
Surely, You, Adonai our God – You will answer.
(CCAR, (c) 2014, All rights reserved).
Take a listen to this recording, with a melody by Levandowski, that I grew up hearing throughout my youth in the UK (click on the 2nd sound link when the new page opens up).
Put aside theology for a moment. If you are not sure what God-idea you believe in, you could get stuck on the literal words here. But look instead at the human emotion being poured out. It is a heart crying out for relationship. To be received. To be held. To be seen. To not feel alone and abandoned, uncertain of what lies ahead. Uncomfortable when we sit quietly long enough to notice what thoughts, anxieties, doubts, and self-disgust arise within us. We want to be accepted. We want to be received. We need relationships despite our flaws and imperfections.
To me, this gets to the heart of the human condition. It is a crying out that has been distilled into a few sentences that captures so much of what many of us feel in the dark, when no-one is watching.
As with so many of the core prayers of our High Holy Day liturgy, the new CCAR machzor also offers us an alternative text drawn from a more contemporary source. On Kol Nidre, the text that is offered is a poem by Rachel, an Israeli poet. It’s opening verses, like the prayer they face, express an outpouring of emotion:
Will you hear my voice, you who are far from me?
Will you hear my voice, wherever you are;
A voice calling aloud, a voice silently weeping,
Endlessly demanding a blessing.
This busy world is vast, its ways are many;
Paths meet for a moment, then part forever;
A man goes on searching, but his feet stumble,
He cannot find that which he has lost…
Hear me! Help me find meaning in all of this vastness! Help me live in relationship and connection to others. Accept me, and help me learn to accept myself.
Rabbi Rachel Gurevitz serves Congregation Congregation B’nai Shalom in Westborough, MA.