For it is now your thoughts which must deck our kings…. (Prologue, Henry V, Shakespeare)


This Rosh Hashanah, we will miss the usual experience of the holiday. There will be no hours spent in the synagogue. To hear the shofar, we will have to go to a park or a courtyard in the building where we live. On the day when we crown the creator of the world as our King, the ceremony, the drama, the musical fanfare, and the poetic storm that carry us, as if we ourselves were the sounds of the shofar, shooting and crying out with loud light before the great and holy King, are left for us to create in our own homes. A living room becomes a sanctuary, and a coffee table sits where an ark should be. The “congregations of tens of thousands of Your people the house of Israel” are each of us alone, and if we are fortunate to live with others during this pandemic, those we live with. 

But is this day of spiritual, musical, and poetic drama diminished by our observing it at home? What is Rosh Hashanah without a hall full of people bowing down on the floor with us to say Aleynu? What is this day when the mournful High Holiday Kaddish is not heard around us to bring us into our silent Amidah with a sense of kedushah (holiness)?

The answer will depend on what the day is for you when there is a synagogue to be in. Are you sitting with the boredom that comes from waiting for Hebrew-sounding mumbles and dead melodies to finally end? Are you counting the pages ahead of you, waiting for kiddush to finally come? Or have you studied the machzor, and learned the meanings of the prayers in English when your Hebrew is not quite sufficient? Have you said some key passages of the liturgy with full attention, contemplation, and allowed the meanings of the words to fill you, take the shape that your thoughts, experience, and feelings give them, and release them into the Ultimate to carry your meaning and your life with them? 

Find some time before the holiday. Give yourself a space where you will be alone and undisturbed. Take some of the words of the machzor. Take a single line, or a single paragraph. Become familiar with the Hebrew words and their meanings. Say them again and again to yourself. Let each word fill you. Say each word, and let the word’s meaning come out in the tone and volume of your voice, your emotional expression, and express it with the movement of your body. Do this for half an hour. When you are done, say the piece of the liturgy, and notice the power that you and the words have invested in each other. Then, you will be ready to use these words as prayer. They will be the same Hebrew words used by Jews across times, eras, and national borders, and they will express your own personal meaning.

If you can do this, if you can ingest and express the words of the prayer book, then on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, it won’t matter if you’re in a minyan with a whole Jewish community around you, or if you’re in your own living room, or in the woods at the Fore River Reserve. You will be standing before the essence of being itself, prostrated before the Holy King (and knowing what “Holy King” means to you), and finding yourself inscribed in the Book of Life.

I wish you a sweet new year!

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