As we get older, our sense of time seems to quicken. What? Rosh Hashanah again? Memories of past High Holy Days flood our thoughts – for some people, the memories are drawn from childhood in another city or country; and for others the memories come from a more recent personal history of celebrating the Jewish New Year and Yom Kippur. For those who are called to serve as prayer leaders, the High Holy Days present a double challenge: how to prepare the soul-clearing within, while also preparing for services, music, sermons, and myriad practical details so that the holy days are meaningful and uplifting for others in our congregations, institutions, and communities.
I take the month of Elul as a time for deep introspection, asking others for forgiveness, and writing down my regrets of the many “target marks I missed” over the past year. I also write out goals and aspirations for the coming year so there is a sense of a path I wish to follow in an upward spiral of spiritual refinement. In Mussar study, this is a constant life-time practice. We shine a light on the very places where we have blind spots, and oh, it is humbling.
Will I really be able to create a healthier balance of work and personal recreation time? Will I truly react with more patience when annoyed or upset? Can I imagine really not repeating stories about others unless necessary for safety or health? Can I respond with humor to pressure? Might I finally carve out regular time for meditation and reflection? So far on many of these issues I’ve judged myself pretty harshly; I pray that the Holy One will be more lenient.
My blessing for spiritual leaders is that we prepare the physical vessels (outlines, room setup, readings, honors lists, etc.) in such a way that while we are in the midst of leading services we are able to go deeply inside, responsive to the moment, alive with real blessings to offer, so that together with our congregations our prayers soar upwards and touch hearts. Let us be open to transformation, and keep the prayers in the book vibrating with new life. I feel right now as I write that all of us are standing in a circle, holding hands, and chanting Hineni,”Behold, here I am ready to serve and travel on the journey of the Days of Awe.”
Rabbi Alicia Magal, AJRCA ‘03
Jewish Community of Sedona and the Verde Valley