During our upcoming High Holy Day services we will be saying farewell to an old friend who has been an important part of our congregation for many years. For over three decades, we have utilized the machzor: Sha’arei Teshuvah, Gates of Repentance. Published by the Reform movement, this maroon High Holy Day machzor has been the source for our prayers, songs, and reflections that we have offered as a congregation on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur since 1978.
There is familiarity to using the same services year after year during the High Holy Days. This sense of recognition can allow some passages in English to reach into our souls. For example, I find deeply moving the words that conclude the recitation of the U’netaneh Tokef. This passage reminds us of the fragility of life: “Man’s origin is dust, and dust is his end. Each of us is a shattered urn, grass that must wither, a flower that will fade, a shadow moving on, a cloud passing by, a particle of dust floating on the wind, a dream soon forgotten. But You are the King, the everlasting God!”
So too, there are other passages that touch us. The portion of the Yom Kippur service known as the Eleh Azkarah recounts the martyrs of our people. In recalling the sacrifices our people have made over the centuries, from the time of Akiba and including the six million who perished during the Holocaust, we feel reverence for those who perished For the Sanctification of the Name and a resolve that their memories will never be forgotten.
However, I am fully confident that the new mahzor being published by the Reform movement will not only encompass the prayers and songs that are dear to our hearts, but will also lead us to heighten levels of spiritual awareness for the High Holy Days. The new machzor, Mishkan HaNefesh, is not unfamiliar to our membership. Back in April, 2013, we test piloted a draft of the Yom Kippur Morning Service and the responses of the participants were highly favorable. So too, this past Yom Kippur Afternoon, we used a draft copy of Mishkan HaNefesh’s service so that we could experience the creative readings, inspiring meditations, and felicitous translations in this new machzor.
Following last year’s High Holy Days, the very favorable responses to Mishkan HaNefesh led our Worship Committee to recommend to our Board that we acquire this new machzor. The Board approved and our order was placed with the expectation that Mishkan HaNefesh will arrive next year in time for the High Holy Days.
As we join next week to usher in the New Year, we will hold in our hands for the last time the machzor that has given shape to our High Holy Day worship for many decades. Gates of Repentance has been part of our High Holy Day worship for 36 years. In Jewish tradition, 36 is double Chai. Sha’arei Teshuvah has given life to two central Jewish holy days: Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Let us give thanks for the guidance and inspiration Gates of Repentance has given us over the years.