Books High Holy Days Holiday Mishkan haNefesh Prayer

Mishkan HaLev: Transported Beyond Words

A prayerbook is a repository of rituals and ceremonies; its language is often formulaic and sometimes feels abstract. Yet the rituals contained within the best prayerbooks also speak to our souls: the recurring idioms (for example, “Baruch atah, Adonai . . .”) create a shared spiritual space in which communities gather to affirm their values and beliefs, define their orientation to the world, and try to make sense of life’s vicissitudes. That is, in addition to teaching us the right steps in the right order, a prayerbook worth its salt must be “real.” Its content should touch our hearts — speaking to the lives we live, while aiming to inspire hope and faith and courage.

And so we come to Mishkan HaLev — a book whose name means “A Sanctuary of the Heart” (or “a dwelling place of the heart”). Mishkan HaLev is largely a response — albeit a partial one — to a single question: how do Reform Jews prepare for the High Holy Days? Here is what we learned by asking that question in a CCAR survey several years ago: (1) serious Reform Jews value preparation because they recognize the unique character of these holy days; (2) some Reform Jews have found interesting, creative ways to prepare for the Days of Awe — the season of introspection, repentance, and forgiveness; and (3) many have yet to figure out how to make time for meaningful preparation, but would like to do so. What is the goal of Mishkan HaLev? Its main purpose is to encourage more people to be better prepared, spiritually and emotionally, for the High Holy Days— and we hope that those who pray its prayers, read its poetry, and study its commentary are enriched by the experience.

Mishkan HaLev is comprised of two sections: Shabbat Evening Service for the Month of Elul; and S’lichot: Songs of Forgiveness for the Season of Return. The Shabbat service is intended for all Friday evenings during Elul, the month that leads to Rosh HaShanah; in addition, it includes the liturgical insertions for Shabbat Shuvah — the “Sabbath of Return” between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. The S’lichot service is the CCAR’s first new S’lichot liturgy since Gates of Forgiveness was published in 1980. Both services contain many choices for communal worship, study, and discussion, as well as diverse options for private devotion and inspiration — in particular, the “Meditative Amidah” for Friday evening and abundant poetry. Both are designed, as well, to serve as resources for educational programs leading up to the High Holy Days.

Many poems appear in these pages, because, as Edward Hirsch has written, “poetry is a soul-making activity.” At its best, poetry celebrates the gift that allows human beings to see things differently, to remake the world, and to reinterpret received ideas and traditions. Reading a poem can stir within us a sense of intimacy and even urgency.

Why have we called this prayerbook “Mishkan HaLev — A Sanctuary of the Heart”?

Love is the theme of the month of Elul, in part because the initial Hebrew letters of Song of Songs 6:3 — “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine” (Ani L’dodi V’dodi Li) — spell out the word Elul. Our Sages saw the verse as expressing the tender mutual devotion that makes t’shuvah possible. If we turn with open hearts to the Holy One, they taught, God is forever ready to embrace us with love.

No prayerbook can choreograph the turning of our hearts to God and to other people; nor can it possibly choreograph their loving responses to us. Such events are profound and unique; often they are transcendent — moments in which we are transported entirely beyond words, and far beyond the pages of the prayerbook. But it is our hope that Mishkan HaLev will challenge all of us to open our hearts and minds to the possibility of such moments in our lives. May this prayerbook help us to make Elul a time of profound introspection, self-examination, and turning.

Rabbi Sheldon Marder is currently the Rabbi and Department Head of Jewish Life at the Jewish Home of San Francisco. Rabbi Marder is the co-editor, translator, writer, and commentator of Mishkan HaNefesh: Machzor for the Days of Awe, published by CCAR Press in 2015, as well as the co-editor of Mishkan HaLev: Prayers for S’lichot and the Month of Elul, a companion prayerbook to Mishkan HaNefesh. He is also the contributor to other publications, such as Divrei Mishkan HaNefesh: A Guide to the CCAR Machzor, published by CCAR Press in 2016; and CCAR Journal: The Reform Jewish Quarterly, Summer 2013 issue.

Books High Holy Days Holiday Mishkan haNefesh

Wandering in the Desert with Mishkan HaNefesh

Editor’s Note: Most of the blogs on RavBlog are written by CCAR members. Occasionally, we share a blog by a special guest with a unique message. We are pleased to share this blog by poet Jessica Greenbaum.

I’ve resisted the impulse to tour our country’s beautiful deserts because of my clashing impulse to take a swim most days of my life. These two things just don’t go together. However, caught in that life-cycle moment of watching my youngest daughter gleefully wave goodbye from the window of her freshman dorm, I vowed to set out on new territory myself. Unlike Dante’s mid-life figure of The Inferno who finds himself in a dark wood, I found my mid-life self transported to the squint-inducing sunlight of Mesa, Arizona, which highlighted the orange and red striped canyons, and blue skies of the Tonto National Forest. The “forest” part was clearly tagged on to prize its rarest asset. Like the “green” of icy Greenland. I came to the desert ranch with a tour company that specializes in open water swimming vacations. Yes, they exist! They had mapped out a week’s course through three of the dammed lakes of the Salt River, also within the national forest. So, no problem swimming, but another problem loomed. Yom Kippur fell in the middle of the only week they offered. I took 40 seconds to think. Then, like any good tourist, I paid my money and packed my machzor.

As it works out, and for reasons fascinating only to myself, I was already waist deep in the most solitary experience of the holidays that I can remember. Unexpectedly, Rosh Hashana had been without my husband and girls: just me, Mishkan Hanefesh, and my laptop open on my quilt, for synagogue livestreaming. Whatever the congregation was doing virtually on the screen, I tried to follow on analogous pages. Just when I was getting teary about the yarzheit of my grandmother, I turned the page and—there it was! Stephen Ackerman’s awesome poem, “Effortless Affection,” which begins: “All last requests are granted / and this is mine: grasp my affection / in your hand and hold it there . . .”  Beshert. I had my prayer book, so I had my shul.

Well that had been okay for a Rosh Hashana Plan B in Brooklyn. But determined to hear Kol Nidre in person, I arranged that during my trip I would attend an Arizonan congregation. I brought Mishkan Hanefesh with me in case they were using some old wooden machzor—which they were. I turned to my own when my mind wandered. As uninspiring as the service was, the tiny congregation was hamishe, I was with other Jews, and I needed that. Packing my own machzor made me feel faintly ancient. All those stories of the Jew traveling from one town to another and ducking in somewhere for services . . . all I needed was a donkey.

But what to do on Yom Kippur day? I could return to the shul, but enjoying my first real vacation for nine years, shouldn’t I spend every day of it swimming with the tour? Two words stopped me: Sandy Koufax. If the great pitcher could sit out the 1965 World Series and inspire John Goodman’s line in the movie The Big Lebowski “Three thousand years of beautiful tradition: from Moses to Sandy Koufax,” well, couldn’t I skip a day? The surrounding canyon walls and idiosyncratic menorahs of saguaro cacti designed the most tasteful tabernacle from here to Woodstock. I decided to hang out with Mishkan Hanefesh. I told my fellow swim lunatics to plow on without me. I livestreamed my favorite NYC synagogue and practiced a mix of e-Judaism and reading, wandering around the immediate canyon with my MacBook open and machzor in hand, singing along. The new ner tamid looks like an apple with a bite out of it. Somehow this goes together.

Well, I never spent so long in services. Here’s what I liked about it. At that remove, I happily couldn’t miss the fantasy congregation—of close friends and family—I had never actually had. I was better able to concentrate on the demand Yom Kippur makes on the conscience. I wrote down those aspects of my personality I needed to confront. ( . . . page 2. . . .) The livestream lets viewers chat in the screen’s margin, a cyber gathering of the disenfranchised from all over the world. So you could still tell latecomers what figurative page we were on! If the NYC congregation was mumbling or otherwise leaving me behind, I could page through my machzor and find what I needed, learn what was there for me. I wasn’t bothering anyone when I fidgeted. I wasn’t thinking what I had to bring to break the fast, or if the brisket would be done. I had my prayer book so I had my shul. When the rabbi took a break for two hours, I took a little dip in the ranch pool. I know you’re not supposed to. But a little swim let me return to the pages and the services and take in what I could even if I wasn’t fasting when I was wandering. The desert and canyons surrounded. I was getting someplace, I could feel it.

Jessica Greenbaum is poet living in Brooklyn, and is the author two volumes of poetry, Inventing Difficulty (Silverfish Review Press, 1998), winner of the Gerald Cable Prize, and The Two Yvonnes (2012), which was chosen by Paul Muldoon for Princeton’s Series of Contemporary Poets. She is the poetry editor for upstreet,  received a 2015 Creative Writing Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Alice Fay Di Castagnola Award from the Poetry Society of America in 2016. Some of her poems are featured in CCAR publications, including The Torah: A Women’s Commentary, and Mishkan HaNefesh.


Books High Holy Days Machzor Mishkan haNefesh Reform Judaism

One Is Silver and the Other’s Gold: Precious Gifts of Mishkan HaNefesh

“Make new friends, and keep the old. One is silver and the other’s gold.” We all heard and likely sang that ditty as children. We were not thinking of prayer books, but about friends.

For many people, though, a prayer book is an old friend. I recall an older Temple member, who was ill and unable to attend services here on the High Holy Days. When I visited, she showed me the prayer books that she and her family had used for a private service on Rosh Hashanah eve, and planned to use again on Yom Kippur: Union Prayer Book, of course.

I suspect that those High Holy Days were the most meaningful of that family’s life, as their matriarch neared the end of her life, but still able to celebrate and enjoy her family. Only immediate relatives were present, with one friend: that prayer book, which had been a part of their lives for generations, linking them to all who had come before, and to their memories of Rosh Hashanah in the Temple that has been their family’s synagogue home for a century and a half.

For many, Union Prayer Book was and remains a friend. Though a generation or more has passed since that book was used for regular High Holy Day services here, many return to its special place in our homes, to seek comfort and guidance.

Gates of Repentance was a hip, contemporary friend for its era. That decade, the 1970s, was characterized by low regard for anyone over 30; and Union Prayer Book was far older than that. Radical change was in the air in the years immediately following the moon landing and Vietnam War protests, the Civil Rights Movement and the dawn of Women’s Liberation. While young adults of that era embraced the change, throwing off archaic language – you know, all those thee’s and thou’s – offering more accessible English for a new generation, others mourned the loss of an old friend.MhN Standard - RESIZED FINAL

The 21st Century is sometimes called post-modern, meaning in part that we embrace advances without throwing away the gems of the past. Mishkan HaNefesh preserves more of Jewish tradition than any previous Reform prayer book, while also embracing more of our Reform heritage than Gates of Repentance.

On the one hand, Mishkan HaNefesh includes more traditional Hebrew than its predecessors. On the other hand, the Hebrew is all transliterated on each page as it appears, making it more accessible, as we have become accustomed with Mishkan T’filah.

Another example of embracing both traditional and Reform practice is in the scriptural readings. Those of us who’ve been Reform for as long as we’ve been alive, or at least for as long as we’ve been Jewish, may imagine that the Binding of Isaac is the traditional Torah reading for Rosh Hashanah morning. That’s only partially true. In traditional synagogues, that section is read on the second day of Rosh Hashanah. Mishkan HaNefesh offers choices. This year, for example, we will read the traditional selection for the first – and in our case, the only – day of Rosh Hashanah, which is about the birth of Isaac. Then, we will immediately turn to a Haftarah designated by our Reform forbears, a selection from the Book of Nehemiah about an ancient Rosh Hashanah.

The evocative English of Mishkan HaNefesh is its greatest strength, whether in translations of traditional prayers or in the more interpretive sections on the left side of the page. We may find inspiration in prayer and poetry that is mostly new to us, and then turn to a reading that has brought meaning to Reform Jews since the first edition of Union Prayer Book.

The editors of Mishkan HaNefesh solved some nettlesome problems with grace. For some years, we have been awkwardly changing the words when Gates of Repentance refers to God as “He.” As with Mishkan T’filah, that problem has been solved in ways that are never noticeable.

The most important words on the High Holy Days are Avinu Malkeinu, previously translated, “Our Father, our King.” The solution in Mishkan HaNefesh is a thing of beauty: “Avinu Malkeinu, Sh’ma Koleinu, Avinu Malkeinu – Almighty and Merciful – hear our voice.” “Almighty and Merciful” is evocative alliteration, reflecting the opening “a” and “m” sounds of Avinu Malkeinu. More significant, the meaning is conveyed, even if not literally. We call upon Malkeinu, our Sovereign, to acknowledge God’s power to judge us when we have sinned. We call upon Avinu, our loving heavenly Parent, asking the Holy One to be merciful when we have gone astray.

Most creative is the placement of the shofar ritual. In Orthodox synagogues, the shofar is sounded during the mussaf service. Mussaf means “additional,” and it refers to a repetition of prayers, duplication eliminated by our Reform founders. Reform prayer books placed the shofar after the Haftarah reading, since traditional mussaf follows the Torah service. The shofar ritual has three parts – the first, emphasizing God’s sovereignty; the second, asking God to forgive us by recalling the merit of our ancestors; and the third, pointing toward amessianic, future. When the entire shofar ritual is compressed into one part of the service, whether in mussaf or after the Haftarah, each part loses its significance. Mishkan HaNefesh liberates us both from a tradition that is no longer meaningful to us and a decision of our 19th century Reform founders. We now separate the three sections, giving each its own special place in the service.

One is silver and the other’s gold. Mishkan HaNefesh enables us to make a new friend while keeping the old. It preserves our birthright, the old friends that are our Jewish tradition and our Reform heritage, with prayers from the ancient and medieval High Holy Day machzor and words from Union Prayer Book. It provides new poetry, a new friend, inviting our spirits to soar. Mishkan HaNefesh is art in our hands. The look and the feel of these gold and silver volumes are classic wonders, worthy to be cherished for generations, even in a future when these are the beloved old books on the shelf from a previous era.

We have received a magnificent gift, from our editors and from our Conference. Let our hearts, full of gratitude, find precious gems in the silver and in the gold.

Rabbi Barry Block serves Congregation B’nai Israel in Little Rock, Arkansas.  Rabbi Block chairs the CCAR Resolutions Committee.

Learn more about Mishkan HaNefesh.

Books High Holy Days Machzor Mishkan haNefesh

Meet the Editors of Mishkan HaNefesh: Rabbi Sheldon Marder

When Rabbi Sheldon Marder talks about finding the essential meaning in the traditional service and then innovating to make it relevant to the 21st century, he talks from years of expert experience. As one of the editors of Mishkan HaNefesh: Machzor for the Days of Awe, Rabbi Marder played various roles, including taking on a lead role in the masterful translations. We asked him to tell us about his journey in becoming an editor of the new machzor, the process of working on the prayerbooks, and his favorite parts of the liturgical texts.


Q: Tell us about yourself and your background in Jewish liturgy.

A: My background in Jewish liturgy begins with the Union Prayer Book, my siddur from 1955 – 1975 (from first grade through my third year at HUC). In the late 1960s, my mother co-wrote a pamphlet for rabbis: a guide to degenderizing the prayers in the UPB, which was distributed to Reform rabbis by the UAHC. Her passion for the prayerbook made an impression on me. But, to my disappointment, the premise of the pamphlet—that the exclusive use of male language for God erected a false barrier to the already-difficult task of praying—was rejected by the liturgy committee that created Gates of Prayer in 1975. Nonetheless, I considered Gates of Prayer a great achievement for the Reform movement and enjoyed using it for thirty years.MhN Standard - RESIZED FINAL

In 1973 I began studying with Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman, who exposed his students simultaneously to the primary liturgical sources (Mishnaic, Talmudic, Geonic, etc.) and to scholarship in the social sciences to enhance our understanding of ritual, culture, and belief systems (Mary Douglas, Edward Hall, and Gregory Bateson come immediately to mind); and at the same time I was exposed to contemporary trends in Jewish liturgy and spirituality (e.g., the 1972 feminist issue of the journal Response). By far, my most important—indeed, formative—experience in rabbinic school was the thesis I wrote under the mentorship of Rabbi Hoffman. It was a project that involved research into many dimensions of the medieval world of Jewish liturgy; it focused on primary sources: liturgical manuscripts from the Mediterranean region, where Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews met, mingled, and interacted. The main manuscript’s instructions were in Arabic, which added to my appreciation and understanding of the culture in which the document was created.

My liturgical skills and concerns have been deepened by reading, studying, reflecting, and teaching about two areas of great interest and meaning to me: Biblical poetry—the book of Psalms in particular; and modern Hebrew poetry. These interests go back more than forty years, but have increased in intensity and depth over time.

Every setting in which I have worked as a rabbi has had a liturgical/worship component.  Early in my career, I had a job in which I recruited, trained, and supervised Jewish volunteers to lead services in sixty nursing homes in the Los Angeles area. This was a profound learning experience. On a human and practical level, nothing has been more important.


Q: Working on Mishkan HaNefesh was a seven-year process. What made you want to take part in this project?

A:  The work seemed to bring together and draw on many things that I enjoy: prayer, poetry, Jewish study, and creative writing. I felt that I had not studied the liturgy of the High Holy Days Mishkan HaNefeshdeeply enough; this would be an opportunity to do some serious work in that area.  At the same time, as I thought about all of the other prayer books I’ve used and seen (probably hundreds of them), I was humbled by the overwhelming feeling that this was beyond me….  In any case, I decided to do it because I would be part of a team and, especially because the team of four editors would include my wife, Janet.  My mother – mentioned above – talked me into it!  And my participation in the CCAR’s machzor Think Tank in late 2008 whetted my appetite for the work.


Q: What was your role in the creation of Mishkan HaNefesh?  

A: There was no aspect of the machzor that did not interest me. I wrote faithful translations for the traditional liturgy, the Torah and Haftarah portions, medieval piyutim, and some of the modern Hebrew poems. Through my work on the machzor, I experienced translation on intellectual, emotional, and spiritual levels. It became, for me, a form of prayer. The machzor gave me the gift of developing a personal philosophy and method of translation.  I wrote “sublinear” commentaries—and especially enjoyed blending historical, linguistic, and literary approaches into comments that ultimately have a spiritual message and purpose. I wrote original prayers, creative readings, interpretations of prayers and midrashim, and essays that introduce services, liturgical rubrics, and the Torah and Haftarah portions. I enjoyed the creative work of conceptualizing several services for Yom Kippur afternoon. It was an incredibly meaningful experience to bring to life, in a new way, traditional services like Avodah, Eileh Ezk’rah, and Yizkor; it was very gratifying to bring new meaning to them.


Q: What is your favorite part of the books, and what would you like readers/worshipers to take away from the experience of using Mishkan HaNefesh this High Holy Days?   

A: I think the afternoon—from Minchah to N’ilah—is my favorite part of the two volumes because in those services – in addition to everything else – there was the aspect of finding the essence – the essential meaning – in the traditional service and then innovating to make it relevant to the 21st century.  Avodah, the theme of which is “discovering the holy,” is a good example; or Eileh Ezk’rah which is thematically a counterpart to Minchah: the first focuses on tikkun olam (repair of the world) and the second focuses on tikkun midot hanefesh (character development and self-improvement).  I also really enjoy looking at the pictures!  (Joel Shapiro’s art). I enjoyed weaving contemporary themes and ideas throughout the books – for example, our relationship to Israel; the urgency of saving our environment.

I would like Mishkan HaNefesh to provide people with significant, serious religious experiences and, perhaps, inspire them to study and pray more often and more regularly. And I hope it will lead people to the most important tasks of the Days of Awe: Cheshbon HaNefesh (self-reckoning and self-examination) and T’shuvah (repentance and return to the right path).

Rabbi Sheldon Marder is the co-editor, translator, writer, and commentator of Mishkan HaNefesh: Machzor for the Days of Awe, published by CCAR Press in 2015. He is also the contributor to other publications, such as Divrei Mishkan HaNefesh: A Guide to the CCAR Machzor, published by CCAR Press in 2016; and CCAR Journal: The Reform Jewish Quarterly, Summer 2013 issue. He is currently the Rabbi and Department Head of Jewish Life at the Jewish Home of San Francisco.

Books High Holy Days Machzor Mishkan haNefesh

Meet the Editors of Mishkan HaNefesh: Rabbi Janet Marder

From the girl who used to read novels during High Holy Day services to an editor of the new, groundbreaking, machzor, Rabbi Janet Marder is now one of the leading names in Jewish liturgy. Mishkan HaNefesh: Machzor for the Days of Awe will be used by over 400 congregations this upcoming High Holy Days. It is time to get to know the editors better. Rabbi Janet Marder shares with us what inspired her in her work on the machzor and what she hopes inspires readers and worshipers.


Q: Tell us about yourself and your background in Jewish liturgy.

A: I didn’t grow up in a Reform congregation – we belonged to a Conservative synagogue until I was a junior in high school – and we were not regulars at Shabbat services.  We did go to services every year on the High Holy Days – and I spent quite a number of those services reading a novel, rather than the machzor, feeling quite uninvolved in what was going on. I know what it’s like to be in a congregation, but not really feel like you’re part of it.

Moving to a Reform synagogue was a huge transition – lots of English prayers, quasi-Chasidic tunes, and “creative services.” I really didn’t get to know the Reform siddurim until I was a student at HUC-JIR, and had the chance to study the Union Prayerbook and Gates of Prayer as sociological texts with Dr. Larry Hoffman. I was fascinated by the idea that one could analyze a prayerbook – including features such as typography, page design, relative size and placement of Hebrew and English, choreographic instructions for worshipers, and linguistic choices made by translators – and gain insight into the community for which the prayerbook was developed. I also began to understand the siddur as a document that both expresses and forms Jewish identity, an effort to articulate the values and self-perception of the worshipers.  Ever since then, I’ve been interested in how all the elements of worship – words, music, chanting, silence, room design, seating arrangement, lighting, choreography, style of the worship leader – contribute to the experience of prayer.

My primary focus at HUC-JIR was modern Hebrew literature, and after ordination I went to graduate school in comparative literature, specializing in modern Hebrew, Yiddish, and English. I’m fascinated by words and I love a good sentence. I read constantly (poetry, fiction, and non-fiction); I have a deep love for Hebrew, and I care a lot about cadence, rhythm, tone, and word choice in English prayers.MhN Standard - RESIZED FINAL

One formative experience for me was serving a gay/lesbian congregation in the 1980s, during the first terrible years of the AIDS epidemic, when many young people were dying and there was as yet no treatment for those who were sick. I experienced profound theological challenges as I tried to respond to my congregants’ questions and to help them find strength to endure suffering. My comfortable philosophy of “live as if there is a God” no longer felt adequate to me. Since then I’ve done a lot of reading and soul-searching, and have actually come closer to faith than I was in recent years. But I’ve also been a congregational rabbi for 26 years, and I have a lot of empathy for agnostics, skeptics, and those who don’t feel addressed by the traditional prayers.


Q: Mishkan HaNefesh is a result of seven years of team work of an ensemble of editors. What was your role in creating the new machzor?

A: I was deeply involved in choosing poetry and readings, and took special pleasure in finding some beautiful poetry that expresses profound religious yearning, doubt, amazement, and anger.  I especially enjoyed incorporating the words of contemporary scientists into the machzor, because I’m fascinated by science and love to read about it. I’m also quite interested in modern Jewish thought, so it was great to have the opportunity to draw on the writings of important 20th century thinkers and figure out how to make their work accessible in a liturgical setting. I hope that some of their most significant ideas and most eloquent phrases will come to be familiar to our community in the years to come.

It was fun to create many readings based on traditional midrashim – I love the idea of making this material more accessible and relevant to worshipers.  I also wrote quite a number of original pieces for the left-side – including some of the more theologically controversial ones and some that explore the relationship between science and Jewish mysticism. I translated some prayers and wrote many of the sublinear commentaries, seeking to make them not only informative, but also inspiring. I hope people will take time to explore them!

When I was invited to work on Mishkan HaNefesh, I was initially quite apprehensive, because my congregational responsibilities keep me very busy. I agreed when I realized that my husband, Shelly, and I could work very closely as a team. I have enormous respect for his learning, taste, and judgment, so his involvement was very reassuring.


Q: What would you like people to take away from the experience of using Mishkan HaNefesh at High Holy Day services?

A: I really wanted Mishkan HaNefesh to be a teaching book – one that would enrich the worshipers’ understanding of, and connection with, Judaism’s “big ideas.” I wanted it to provoke deep thought and questions, rather than rote recitation. I wanted it to open people up to the possibility of faith, and also to help worshipers understand that doubt and anger are time-honored Jewish modes of theological engagement. Most of all, I wanted people to feel personally addressed by the language of the prayerbook – I hoped it would speak directly to the minds and hearts of worshipers. The challenge is to offer this material in a way that is inviting and conducive to personal reflection. That’s why I hope that worship leaders will be selective when they design worship services, rather than choosing too much material and having to rush through it.  I like Heschel’s counsel: “To pray is to know how to stand still and to dwell upon a word.”

Rabbi Janet R. Marder serves Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos Hills, CA. She is one of the editors of Mishkan HaNefesh: Machzor for the Days of Awe, and a contributor to Divrei Mishkan HaNefesh: A Guide to the CCAR Machzor.

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Mishkan HaNefesh for Youth – Do Children Really Need Their Own Machzor?

Each year as we approach Elul as I become immersed in the preparing for our holiest of days, I am overcome with mixed memories of my childhood in shul during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. First I remember the comfort of family; sitting next to my father, twisting the tzitzit into braids, huddling close to find warmth from the gusting cool air, cranked higher than usual to account for the surplus of congregants. I remember looking up at my father and my mother; their lips moving rhythmically to the melody of the cantor, their eyes fixed on the rabbi as he spoke, and their hands holding tight to the Machzor in their hands.  And when I wasn’t watching them, my brother and sister and I exchanged funny faces, or fidgeted in our seats, or counted the lights on the sanctuary ceiling. Those memories bring a chuckle or a smile, but I also remember the book being too heavy to hold, the words on the page overwhelmingly sophisticated or worse the language was sometimes frightening… “Who will live and who will die?” Better to go back to the fidgeting or the counting, or the braiding of those pretty strings.

There is great value in sitting with family, having adult prayer modeled for children at the earliest of ages, and yet, we know that children harbor great spiritual selves, they too yearn to express their heart’s deepest, most sincere hopes, dreams and requests for themselves and for others. They too deserve a safe space to pray on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The newly formed committee for creating Mishkan HaNefesh for Youth (a High Holy Day Machzor) believes children need to find an authentically Jewish way to pray, learn and experience the Yamim No’raim or the High Holy Days. But where do we begin? And how can you create a Machzor that attempts to stay true to the traditional text yet provide something that is rich, meaningful and accessible to a child? The task seems overwhelming, the mountain too tall to climb, and so we began with the end in mind; we began with goal setting.


What are the goals in producing a High Holy Day Machzor for Children and their families?

Together we discussed the importance of engaging children and families with the essential themes of High Holy Day worship in an age-appropriate way. We will not omit prayers that are too challenging, but we will find words, art, poetry and music that will help children enter into these big ideas at a pace and framework that has meaning and context for them. We hope too, that there will be a diverse variety of materials from which clergy teams and service leaders can craft meaningful worship experiences for children of different ages for different kinds of services. We spoke at length too, that this Machzor must reflect our steadfast commitment to inclusivity and diversity, helping our colleagues create opportunities for communities to come together, to learn, to enrich their understanding of these important days, and to offer experiences that truly engage the child and family in Jewish learning and living.

Creating a Machzor for children and families provides access to our tradition. For the parent or grandparent who will only attend a family service, it is an opportunity to provide them with a rich and meaningful experience as well. For the parent who is new to Judaism or parenting – or both, we hope this Machzor will help them guide, and teach and engage in dialogue about the themes and meaning of our Yamim No’raim. Most importantly children are not naïve or incapable of tackling the work of Teshuvah (Repentance) or Cheshbon Hanefesh (self-reflection) – we simply need to explore ways in which a child accessible and age appropriate language invites them into a prayerful time and space.


And so we ask that you dream with us…

Imagine a Machzor that helped the child feel at home; that reinforced the prayers and ideas they may be learning during the remainder of the year, creating a comfortable prayer space where there is a balance of the familiar and the new. Imagine this prayer book introduced the rich and meaningful themes, prayers, stories, and melodies of the high Holy Days – but in a way that spoke directly to the child. In doing so this Machzor would provide participants with an inspirational and spiritual worship experience that deepens their understanding, engagement and celebration of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Imagine if this new Machzor gave us the tools to create sacred community, to connect family to family, parent to child, generation to generation and individual to tradition, heritage, and God. Imagine if the High Holy Day memories of our next generation of children were a beautiful tapestry of experiences that recalled experiences of personal prayer, prayer with parents, and prayer in community.

Perhaps the goals are lofty. Yet, my most favorite time of each Religious School day is T’filah. Yes there are those that fidget and yes the prayer book is occasionally fumbled and dropped, but when the children hear the music of Mi Chamocha – their legs dangle in chairs too big for them to the beat of the drum. When we pause for silent prayer, their eyelids close out the light of the sanctuary and their lips whisper their heart’s most cherished prayer, and when I begin to tell a story from our tradition, they scoot to the edge of their seat and lean in. Children need prayer – they need it modeled for them, and they need to see the adults engage with our most challenging and fulfilling prayers. But they too need access to their own words, their own music, their own poetry to express their hopes, to ask for forgiveness of their mistakes, to forge a path of kindness for their New Year, and they need to create a covenantal relationship of their own with the creator. Only then we imagine, hope and pray that this relationship will endure and grow with each passing year so they will enthusiastically share this incredible legacy with their children too.

Rabbi Melissa Buyer is the Director of Lifelong Learning at Temple Israel in New York City. 

Books High Holy Days Machzor Mishkan haNefesh

5 Things That I Seek at The High Holy Days, and How Mishkan HaNefesh Helps Me to Find Them

Following several months of service sampling in a program that engaged over 60 of our members, our congregation adopted Mishkan HaNefesh and introduced it to the whole congregation last year. The feedback was universally positive. Here I highlight five things that I seek at the High Holy Days and, with reference to the new accompanying guide, Divrei Mishkan HaNefesh, illustrate how our new machzor intentionally goes about addressing those needs.

1) I want to fully engage in the liturgical flow of the High Holy Days in ways that are spiritually meaningful to me.

I want to emerge from the Yamim Noraim feeling like I’ve been helped to engage in a process of introspective teshuvah and, when necessary, to feel spiritually driven to verbalize that teshuvah to others. As Rabbi Eddie Goldberg explains in Divrei Miskhan HaNefesh (p.61), this is what the editors of Mishkan HaNefesh consciously hoped the machzor could support, by ‘designing the best “map” possible.’ That map saw the services as building up ‘… to a climax where painful truths are realized, change is considered and adopted, and the individual leaves with a plan for self-improvement.’ (ibid).  Rabbi Janet Marder points to some translation choices, such as ‘The ways we have wronged You… and harm we have caused in Your world’ instead of ‘The sin we have sinned before You’ as just one way that the language of the liturgy could better draw us in and help us ‘to arrive at a more honest assessment of human misbehavior’ (p.70).  The use of Mussar-inspired character traits in the Yom Kippur Mincha service is another way of engaging me in authentic spiritual work. As Rabbi Marder explains, ‘The goal of cheshbon hanefesh (moral inventory), after all, is not self-condemnation but an honest, realistic assessment of both our weaknesses and our strengths, our right and wrong actions.”CORRECT-MACHZOR-NEW

2) I want a machzor where reading in English still feels like prayer.

Over the past few years, I’ve found myself whittling away more and more of the English in Gates of Repentance, replacing it with alternative readings, kavvanot, and meditations. Part of my personal challenge with the text was a sense of a universal ‘we’ in the language used that often conveyed theological or other sentiments that did not resonate with me. Instead of drawing me to a deeper place, it pushed me away.

I know my experience is not unique, because the editors of Mishkan HaNefesh intentionally created a multi-vocal text in which many more people can find themselves and their inner thoughts and conceptions of the holy mirrored back to them. There are readings that use the language of science to invoke awe or moral conviction. There are poems that convey struggle, theological ambivalence, and a search for truth (p.81).  In particular, the well-selected poetry that echoes the themes of traditional prayers on facing pages open up the prayer experience. As Rabbi Sheldon Marder explains in Divrei Mishkan HaNefesh, ‘Poems do not preach or dictate to us – they are not dogmatic; rather, they are suggestive, evocative, and open-ended. A poem can turn a statement of belief into a question for our consideration’ (p.107).  His approach to translation of the traditional liturgy was ‘faithful’ in that it aimed to present the ideas, feelings and values in the expression of prayer more than a word for word correspondence (p.87). This is one of the great successes of the new machzor.

3) My personal theology is not one that upholds the notion of a personal, judging God, in any literal way, and I want a prayer book that enables me to find a spiritually honest way to make prayer real while remaining true to my sense of God.DivreiMhN - no crop marks

Rabbi Elaine Zecher explains the way that the machzor presents an ‘integrated theology’ that ‘allows for dissonant and harmonious ideas to work together, to open up broader possibilities of what it might even mean to express a belief in a greater Power in the universe’ (p.113).   This approach enables many people to find a way to pray authentically with the new machzor.  This integrated approach does more than just reflect back the God of my imagination to me. By juxtaposing so many different theological expressions with the choice of readings, poems, prayers, and commentaries, I am able to see the partial truths in these other expressions of theology as they open up new possibilities for me.

4) I am seeking greater variety in the ways that the Torah service can more deeply enhance my High Holy Day experience.

Like many of my congregants, I find the Akeidah a troubling text, but I’ve always been particularly drawn to Genesis 21 (the sending away of Hagar and Ishmael) for the High Holy Days. Now, along with several other traditional and alternative selections, I can reintroduce it to my congregation without handouts. Exploring the emotional landscape of the characters (Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Ishmael) especially lends itself to important behavioral insights that we can really use in our lives. Watching fear, jealousy, anxiety and more play out in the narrative, and searching for hope at a life moment that seems bleak… these are themes that our people can relate to much more deeply. Last year, in our family service, we even created a modern midrashic play, with the help of some of my sixth graders, watching the story play out with the commentary of the emotional characters of  ‘Inside Out.’  But there are so many ways to read this powerful text. Divrei Mishkan HaNefesh (p.35-37) offers yet another narrative that looks at the themes of loneliness, and compassion for those who live on the margins.

5) I want to more deeply understand and be engaged by the richness of our tradition.

My congregation, geographically placed as a hub in Central Massachusetts that draws members from nearly 30 towns, consists of those who come from Orthodox and Conservative backgrounds, as well as Reform and non-Jewish backgrounds. We offer multiple services, allowing us to vary styles considerably. One morning service on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is intentionally grounded in more traditional liturgy, and more Hebrew. The new machzor enables us to conduct this service with even more integrity than we could with Gates of Repentance.  Rabbi Leon Morris describes this as a ‘hermeneutic of embrace’ that ‘… urges us to see the classic siddur and machzor as the poetry of the Jewish people.’  It is ‘… rooted in the idea that the classic text has a great deal to teach us – and that our primary task is to realize how it might be reframed, explained, or translated in such a way as to allow it to live again in our Reform synagogues’ (p. 95). By re-instating parts of the liturgy that had been removed, but doing so in ways that juxtapose those texts with new insights and alternative multi-vocal texts, we can find ways to reconnect with these traditional liturgies.

The new machzor has addressed so much of what I was seeking and yearning for as a guide to navigate my way through the High Holy Days. Divrei Mishkan HaNefesh is filled with essays and commentaries that help to articulate why it has achieved its goals so successfully.

Rabbi Rachel Gurevitz serves Congregation B’nai Shalom in Westborough, MA.

Books High Holy Days Machzor Mishkan haNefesh

Theological Dialectics: Balancing Competing Values in Mishkan HaNefesh Pt. II

In my previous entry I discussed Divrei Mishkan HaNefesh, a new commentary on the CCAR machzor. I also described some of the dialectical issues facing its editors — those tensions that arose as they navigated competing values throughout the seven-year editorial process. This time, I will focus on God.

Judaism yearns for God in endless shades of metaphor, and Mishkan HaNefesh honors that theological breadth. Rooted in sources from antiquity to modernity, the many depictions invite us into a nuanced theological conversation at a time when God can seem especially harsh and distant.

Liturgy is where the rubber hits the road for most Jews, theologically speaking. The editorial team seized the opportunity to offer new access points to worshipers. The sources they included expand notions of God and the human-divine relationship far beyond traditional prayer language. Some of these most powerful dialectics include: Faith and doubt; din and rachamim (judgment and compassion); and divine power and human agency.

Faith and DoubtIMG_0555

See Divrei Mishkan HaNefesh Index of Themes, “Theological doubt and struggle, or outright unbelief,” p. 133; “Science and scientists,” p. 132; and “Scientific language in poetry,” pp. 132-133. 

Doubt can be an act of reverence; proof that we spiritual seekers are taking our search seriously. Alongside the many pronouncements of faith, Mishkan HaNefesh makes room for serious questions about divine power and the nature of evil — questions based in Jewish tradition. Editor Rabbi Janet Marder cites the reading “Who is like you among the silent?”[1] which presents a powerful counter-text for Mi Chamocha, in which the addition of a single Hebrew letter turns eilim (gods) to il’mim (the silent [literally, mute] ones) — transforming a prayer in praise of God’s redemptive power to a cry of anguish, denouncing God’s silence in the face of human suffering.[2]

The phrase comes directly from the M’khilta, and the tone of enraged protest was inspired by medieval Jewish poetry from the crusader period. While certainly subversive, this reading is also authentically Jewish: it voices the sorrow, doubt, and sense of abandonment of generations of oppressed Jews.

Notably, the new machzor reaches out to those who struggle with faith. Some readings express skeptical curiosity; others, outright doubt. Rabbi Marder writes:

Some readings are drawn from the writings of scientists who express their own spiritual longing, sense of wonder, or moral convictions. These words… are placed in dialogue with the liturgy — a juxtaposition that conveys the clear message that science and religion may fruitfully co-exist. This machzor also includes contemporary poetry that celebrates the grandeur of creation in quasi-scientific language…Finally, many readings and poems directly articulate theological ambivalence, difficulty with prayer, anger, struggle, and the search for truth.[3]

Din and Rachamim

See Divrei Mishkan HaNefesh Index of Themes,”’Recognizing the good’ and self-forgiveness,” p. 132.

Mishkan HaNefesh urges us to consider the attributes of judgement and mercy in new ways. In particular, readings concerning hakarat hatov (recognizing the good) direct us toward the laudable deeds of the past year in addition to the regrettable ones. (See YK pp. 93, 312, 313, 424, 425, 659, and 667). These good deeds “Serve as a counterweight to the liturgy’s intense focus on scrutiny of one’s own wrongdoing. They also highlight a damaging moral failing — quite pervasive but usually not acknowledged in the prayer book: the inability to regard one’s own behavior with the same gentleness and forgiveness we are expected to offer others.”[4]

When worshipers consider the full range of their actions and emotions as part of heshbon hanefesh (spiritual self-audit), they affirm a point of connection between humanity and divinity. Like God, we have infinite potential for good, but we make mistakes. Like God, we have the ability to forgive. And for many of us, forgiving ourselves is the most difficult forgiveness of all.

Divine Power and Human Agency

See Divrei Mishkan HaNefesh Index of Themes, “Theology of human empowerment”, pp. 133-134

Many familiar liturgical metaphors of the Yamim Nora’im are quite grim: humans as sheep passing under God’s rod and staff; or as guilty children subject to the discipline of a strict parent. Mishkan HaNefesh retains these images, but supplements them with a variety of rabbinic, medieval and modern sources that reframe the power differential.

Take the iconic and terrifying Unetaneh Tokef. This piyyut (liturgical poem) envisions God as judge and arbiter of all creation, deciding (in gory detail!) the fates of every soul. Mishkan HaNefesh retains the piyyut, but includes a “counter-text” immediately opposite:

Left Side (“counter-text”) Right Side (translation)
Let us embrace the day and its holiness,

For this day is a throne of goodness and power.

When the people of Israel do God’s will,

They strengthen God’s power on high.

But when the people of Israel fail to do God’s will,

They weaken — if one might say it —

God’s great power on high.

So let this day recall Your power — and ours.

Let us proclaim the power of this day —

A day whose holiness awakens deepest awe


In truth,

You are judge and plaintiff, counselor and witness.

The right side affirms the familiar hierarchical theology of the Yamim; the left side challenges it. The covenant is still hierarchical, but humans have some agency; some role to play in the relationship and in the world. The editors of Mishkan HaNefesh deem this the “theology of human adequacy.”

It is a theology thoroughly grounded in rabbinic literature. One of my favorite examples — also from the machzor — comes from the Midrash:[5]

Said the Roman Procurator Turnus Rufus to Rabbi Akiva: “Whose Acts are greater, those of human beings or those of God?”

Rabbi Akiva answered: “The deeds of human beings are greater.”


Akiva then brought to Turnus Rufus wheat stalks and cakes, raw flax and fine linen. “The wheat and the flax are the work of God,” said Akiva, “but the cakes and the linen were made by human beings. Are they not superior?”

So our Sages taught: “All created things require refining and improvement. The mustard seed needs to be sweetened; the lupine needs to be soaked; the wheat needs to be ground, and the human being still needs to be repaired. The world that is given into our hands is still incomplete. Go forth, then, and work to make it better.[6]

In Mishkan HaNefesh, this midrash appears on the left side of the spread in nisim b’chol yom  as if to suggest that just as we thank God for the wonders of our world, we also acknowledge our roles as partners in the work of creation.

Danny Moss is a CCAR rabbinical intern and a rising fifth-year rabbinical student at HUC-JIR.


[1] YK p. 197

[2] DMhN, p. 72

[3] DMhN, p. 81

[4]  DMhN, p. 71

[5] Tanhuma, Tazria 5; Genesis Rabbah, 11.6

[6] YK p. 163

Books High Holy Days Machzor Mishkan haNefesh

Falling In Love All Over Again With Mishkan HaNefesh

I want to begin this post by sharing with you that I have a deep and true love of Mishkan HaNefesh.  My congregation used the Reform Movement’s new machzor last year, and as a rabbi and as an individual, I found Mishkan HaNefesh to be inspiring and moving.  On Erev Rosh Hashanah, after months of preparation, I stood on the bimah and led my community through our first service with Mishkan HaNefesh.  I watched as my congregants encountered and appreciated the beauty of our new machzor.  I noticed when they lingered over a prayer that moved them and when they held their books to their chests as they sang words that were so familiar that their books were completely unnecessary.  I could see that their hearts were opening to the words and to the experience of praying with Mishkan HaNefesh, and I knew that even as we lived through the inevitable difficulties that that always accompany the first services with any new prayer book, our community had accepted and embraced the opportunity to create new memories with our new prayer books.

Recently, the CCAR Press released Divrei Mishkan HaNefesh: A Guide to the CCAR Machzor.  Reading the detailed commentary and the essays included in Divrei reminded me just how much I love Mishkan HaNefeshDivrei is meant to be a “midrash on the machzor” and offers both very practical advice for using Mishkan HaNefesh as well as high level insight into the book’s creation.  There are many, many valuable pieces of information included in Divrei that will undoubtedly enhance the experience and understanding of both congregants and clergy.

Mishkan HaNefesh Discussion 07-29-2015 00

Last summer, my congregation was lucky enough to have Rabbi Hara Person, the publisher and director of the CCAR Press, join us for an evening forum about Mishkan HaNefesh.  In a couple of hours, Rabbi Person explained to us how Mishkan HaNefesh had come into being while also introducing us to some of the innovative features of the new machzor.  This program provided us with invaluable insight into our new prayer books, and as I read Divrei, I felt like I was experiencing an expanded version of Rabbi Person’s wonderful class.

While I found the commentaries at the beginning of Divrei to be enlightening, I thought that the behind-the-scenes information in the essays was really fascinating.  I especially enjoyed reading Rabbi Janet R. Marder’s, “Praying in Captivity: Liturgical Innovation in Mishkan HaNefesh,” because she addressed at length my favorite aspect of Mishkan HaNefesh– the beautiful readings and prayers that Rabbi Marder explains are either, “…recovered from the tradition itself… [or] presented in a boldly contemporary idiom.” (p. 72)

bearman 2When I sought feedback after the holidays last year, I heard more about the new readings and prayers than any other aspect of our services.  I heard over and over again from congregants who looked chagrined as they told me, “I loved the readings so much!  Sometimes I wouldn’t follow along with the service because I wanted to stay on a page that really spoke to me.”  When I replied that I thought it was wonderful that they had connected so deeply with the prayer book, they immediately grew animated as they shared exactly which texts had affected them.  More often than not, the readings that grabbed their attention are what Rabbi Marder calls “counter-texts.” (p. 72)  For my congregants and myself, these counter-texts and their relationships to the canonical prayers were and continue to be incredibly powerful.
As I prepared for the High Holy Days last year, I spent hours reading both volumes of Mishkan HaNefesh like novels– approaching each page with a pencil in hand, filling the margins with notes about how I felt about each text, and drawing stars next to my favorite readings (full disclosure- there were a lot of stars). bearman 3

Early on in my preparation, I decided to share my enjoyment of Mishkan HaNefesh through social media.  My posts and tweets helped create a sense of anticipation and excitement in my community and let my congregants know how deeply I connected with our new machzor.

As I prepare for my second High Holy Days with Mishkan HaNefesh, I find myself eagerly anticipating the choice of which prayers and readings I’ll include in this year’s services.  I’m looking forward to incorporating what I have learned from both last year’s High Holy Days as well as the resources included in Divrei as I seek to create and lead meaningful services for my community.  And, when the choices seems too difficult, I’m going to comfort myself with what I think is one of the most important messages in Divrei Mishkan HaNefesh– namely that,…what matters is not ‘mastering’ the book, but rather allowing the book to help us experience transformative, sacred moments.” (p. 2)

Rabbi Rachel Bearman serves Temple B’nai Chaim in Georgetown, Connecticut.

Books High Holy Days Mishkan haNefesh

Lest Our Preparation for Prayer be Willy-Nilly

Lists, as we know, play a key role in the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur liturgy.  Be it Avinu Malkeinu or Al Cheit, our High Holy Day liturgy is laced with lists.  Mishkan HaNefesh’s lists greatly overlap the collections found in Gates of Repentance, but they do differ.   I can think of multiple ways of approaching these differences when preparing to lead services.

The first would be simply to ignore the old order and simply roll through the lists as presented in Mishkan HaNefesh.  However, this approach strikes me as too willy-nilly.  Certainly, we wish to understand these changes in some of our most poignant prayers.

A second approach to preparation might be to place one’s machzorim next to each other on a table and construct one’s own charts, using post-its  and scratch paper for clarification.  This detailed approach enables the prayer leader to map out the differences and consider the expanded options presented by our new machzor.  However, why choose to work in the dark?  Why not have some additional tools before us as we consider the possibilities presented in the evolution of our Reform Jewish liturgy?

Thankfully, Divrei Mishkan HaNefesh provides us with some lists and other resources that can help us approach the High Holy Days in an organized fashion.  We needn’t proceed willy-nilly or with just our own charts.  This book’s obvious lists come at the end in the “Indexes and Tables.” [p.130] It is helpful to have these organized lists of poems and passages, authors and citations. However, when facing the altered lists of Avinu Malkeinu, Al Cheit, etc, I found it first helpful to turn to the “Table of Readings Related to Key Liturgical Rubrics.” (p.168) I dearly hope no rabbi ever uses that title from the bima, however this table can help us contemplate the crucial lists from across our High Holy Day liturgy with a sense of the breadth our editors have presented.  As we consider how to frame our prayers, we are easily presented with the broad range of possibilities.  Al Cheit might be framed on Yom Kippur Morning by Yehuda Amichai or on Yom Kippur Afternoon with a selection from Gates of Repentance itself.  This tool gives a broad snap shot that might help organize the prayer leader’s thoughts.Divrei Image

Even more helpful, is the annotated list described simply as “commentary.” (p.12) Certainly, the insights presented here don’t read as a mere list.  We are provided helpful insights into the choices the editors made in shaping the machzor’s two volumes.  This Commentary is enlightening in comparing different services and considering the range of choices. It is especially helpful when presenting those prayers composed as lists themselves.

Mishkan HaNefesh allows for the melodies many congregations likely use, as we read “every time Avinu Malkeinu appears in the machzor, the words used by Janowski are presented together.” [p.19] With some humor, this grouping is explained.  Further, we learn that the editors “have also added traditional verses to Avinu Malkeinu not found in Gates of Repentance” [p.19] with some further explanation of the editorial selections.  This mini-essay continues with an interesting explanation of the translations offered with Avinu Malkeinu, and thus other prayers.  We are reminded, “Avoiding the word “sin” in the maczhor is not easy, since the Hebrew word cheit is universally recognized as “sin.” [p.21] Later on that page, we learn the reasoning behind rendering “the final declaration of Avinu Malkeinu as ‘our deeds are wanting’ and not ‘we have no merit.”

Actually, Divrei Mishkan HaNefesh’s lists don’t operate in isolation. The insights of that paragraph are more fully explained in Janet Marder’s essay, in a paragraph that reads, in part, “The goal of cheshbon hanefesh (moral inventory), after all, is not self-condemnation but an honest, realistic assessment of both our weakness and our strengths, our right and wrong actions.” [p.72]  Together this string of insights allows us to both understand the editors’ approach and to consider our own choices in constructing our services.

In the end, there is no substitute for a prayer leader working his or her own way through the machzor itself.  We will each react differently to Mishkan HaNefesh’s various lists of Avinu Malkeinu or Al Cheit.  Decisions will be based on community, melody, minhag, or the prior year’s selection. Divrei Mishkan HaNefesh offers helpful lists and insightful essays that can help us understand and shape our approach to our worship using our new machzor.

Rabbi Andrew Busch serves Baltimore Hebrew Congregation.  He serves on Reform Judaism’s Commission on Worship, Synagogue Music and Religious Living and as an officer of the Baltimore Jewish Council.