Several years ago one of my congregants captured the essence of a discussion about a future Reform Machzor by saying, “I would like the liturgy to be like a coat of many colors.”
All of us present for the conversation understood. This congregant was referring to the way in which the standard High Holiday liturgy mostly presents a single image of God. “He” is enthroned on high; God rules, decides, and forgives a very frail humanity.
Before Mishkan Hanefesh had taken shape, my congregants and I were hoping for a Machzor that went beyond the “black and white” theology presented in the historic liturgy. We were hoping to move, you might say, to “full color,” to the multi-faceted way in which Jews of the past have explored divinity, prayer, and life as well as the ways in which contemporary Jews continue that process.
The good news from my perspective is that, on the whole, my prayers and those of my congregants are on their way to being answered.
Back on a chilly Sunday morning in April, we used the new pilot service for Yom Kippur Morning and found much of what we experienced moving, challenging, and relevant.
Opposite Mi Chamocha, we encountered a reading based on the Mechilta’s assertion that the mighty God can sometimes be a silent God. Later in the Viddui another text began with these words, “It is not easy to forgive God…The human suffering that surrounds us feels utterly unforgivable.”
There was sweetness too among other readings. A beautiful poem on the page facing Ki Anu Amecha played with the metaphors of God as a Shepherd or Master. The text invited worshipers to imagine God was a caring Gardener (1) and to consider what it might be like to experience love and tenderness from such a divine source.
From my perspective, several translations also elegantly reframed the connection between God and humanity. “Avinu, Malkeinu, enter our names in the Book of Lives Well Lived.” “For all these wrongs, God of forgiveness, forgive us, pardon us, help us atone.”
As you can tell, I liked this new presentation of the Yom Kippur liturgy. Perhaps because my congregants have spent so much time with me considering and reconsidering faith and theology, they too were intrigued. There was less formality in this proposed Machzor. God isn’t as high. Then again, we humans are not as low. Both parties play a more balanced and significant covenantal role. Both parties are where they need to be in order to have the kind of encounter that can make the High Holidays as meaningful as they really ought to be.
Mark Shapiro is the Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Springfield, Massachusetts.
Learn more about the new CCAR Machzor. For more information about participating in piloting, email firstname.lastname@example.org.