A Message for the High Holy Days

Have you ever imagined what a movie about your life would be like? Who would be cast as you, your family, and your friends? What kinds of music would play in the background and give context to the peaks and valleys of your story? What framing device might a director use to introduce you and your life to the audience?

When I’ve had these thoughts, I have most often fixated on the last question – how might a director frame my story? My hunch is that this question fascinates me because there are so many ways that we can enter into any story. We can start in the past and look forwards or start in the future and look backward. There are non-linear ways of telling stories, such as flashbacks and dream sequences, and there are creative ways of imagining other realities that influence our current reality.

Each way of framing that story changes the outcome. I believe that this is true for the way we approach the upcoming High Holidays.

Over the next few weeks, we will open the Machzor and use the special prayers for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur to guide us through the High Holiday season. it’s in these prayers that we can find many different framing devices for how to understand the process of doing Teshuva for our sins and preparing for a new year.

In fact, I believe that one of the reasons the compilers of the Machzor included so many different analogies and metaphors of humans asking G-d to help us analyze our thoughts and actions in order to be better and do better in the year ahead is so that each of us can latch onto an image that makes sense to us.

As we prepare for Rosh Hashana next week, I want to share some of the words of Ki Hinei KaChomer (As Clay in the Hands of the Potter) – a liturgical poem that we will sing together during Kol Nidre services. The English translation of this prayer from page 395 in our Machzor provides five metaphors of G-d as an artisan, shaping us and crafting us anew for the year ahead.

“As clay in the hands of the potter, to be thickened or thinned as he wishes, are we in Your hand. Preserve us with Your love,

Your covenant recall, and not our imperfection.

As stone in the hand of the mason, to be broken or preserved as he wishes, are we in Your hand, Master of life and death.

Your covenant recall, and not our imperfection.

As iron in the hand of the blacksmith, to be thrust into fire or withdrawn as he wishes, are we in Your hand. Help us heal our wounds with deeds of charity.

Your covenant recall, and not our imperfection.

As a rudder in the hand of a helmsman, to be guided or abandoned as he wishes, are we in Your hand. Prevent our constant drifting.

Your covenant recall, and not our imperfection.

As glass in the hand of the glazier, to be melted or shaped as he wishes, are we in Your hand. Maintain our fragile balance with Your grace.

Your covenant recall, and not our imperfection.”

The beautiful images this prayer paints with its vivid descriptions of our relationship with G-d at this time of the year are just a tiny sample of the many framing devices we can find in our Machzor.

I encourage you to approach the upcoming holidays with an eagerness for exploration of the prayers we will sing and recite. You might just discover a new perspective or way to enter into your own story.

I look forward to joining together with you in prayer, community, and joy as we celebrate Rosh Hashana next week.

Wishing you a Shabbat of peace and joy,
Rabbi Jesse