For the last three years I have been privileged to serve on the core editorial team of the new Reform machzor, to be called Mishkan HaNefesh. From the beginning of the process of creating a new machzor, the first one from scratch by the CCAR since 1894, I sat down and created a personal vision statement for the machzor.
Here is what I wrote:
PERSONAL MACHZOR VISION STATEMENT
EDWIN COLE GOLDBERG
There is an old joke that says baseball is a Jewish sport because, in the end, the point of the game is to head home. There is something Jewish about returning home, remembering who we are and seeing the world not so much in a new way but rather with lenses that take in the new while restoring the old perspective. For most (post) modern American Jews I think this metaphor works well: once a year we return to a familiar place for a rehearsed routine. Most congregants, I would imagine, are content with efficient services and a sermon that tries to move them. Wonderful music is a huge part of the equation, and these days an eclectic mix of stirring and participatory is usually best. The architecture of the building, too, plays a role in the effectiveness of the worship. Like baseball, the rules stay the same, the old rites comforting. But no one minds a little well-paced drama.
And then there is the machzor. For me, a good machzor is somewhat like a business suit on a man: if it calls too much attention to itself, it is not a good thing. The machzor should facilitate effective (and affective) worship; it should not be the star. As we create a new machzor, we should remember that what we create is one component in a large array of factors that contribute to a meaningful worship experience.
The unique challenge of a machzor, as opposed to a siddur, is the theological “elephant” in the sanctuary that cannot be sent to the side. That old “Deuteronomic” view of God as the great Judge and King cannot be taken out of the machzor without the risk of turning the Days of Awe into merely Days.
And yet, I believe our machzor should focus primarily on the human experience of cheshbon nefesh. Through accessible poetry and well-written translations, our focus should be on the possibility of change and the potential for human growth. Our prayers and poems should reflect the reality that people are facing, living in a world of moral temptation, dizzying choice and 24/7 bombardment.
I imagine, then, a machzor that speaks to amcha, not ignoring the role of God in our lives, but focusing primarily on our journey homeward, enabling us to rediscover the values we hold dear, the promises we made when younger, and the challenges before us that, if met, will lead us to lives of holiness.
Reading this statement over three years later, I am pleased that so much of our efforts have reflected the difficult challenge of inviting God into our lives at this critical time of year while at the same time not losing our own sense of personal responsibility for the choices we make.
There are going to be many theological views of God presented in the machzor, just as there will be diverse perspectives on our humanity. Ultimately, I hope that our machzor will privilege the unique relationship between ourselves and God in bringing more holiness into our lives.
Even the title, Mishkan HaNefesh, evokes the work upon us, the Cheshbon HaNefesh, that will determine whether or not our Days of Awe live up to their pontential.
Rabbi Edwin Goldberg is a member of the Machzor Editorial Team. He is the senior rabbi of Temple Judea in Coral Gables, FL, and will become the senior rabbi of Temple Sholom in Chicago, IL, this summer.
Learn more about the new CCAR Machzor. For more information about participating in piloting, email firstname.lastname@example.org.