Friday, October 3, 2008

Hayom! - היום! - Today!

While whole bookshelves have been written about the themes of the High Holiday Liturgy, I would like to focus on one which I find particularly meaningful and which helps explain my great distraught at reading a feature article in the New York Times yesterday.

Throughout the liturgy, both the core b'rachot and the piyutim, of both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, remind us of the special power invested in those very days, in the repeated use of the word 'Hayom' - today, this day. These references reminded me during my tefillot to concentrate on the unique opportunity to reflect on the beginning of a New Year, and the focus on the day elevates the other core themes of the Rosh Hahanah Musaf (God's Kingship, Remembrance and Revelation), as well as atonement on Yom Kippur.
Here are a number of the countless tefillot that reflect the 'Hayom' theme, which has helped bring meaning to my Yamim Noraim so far.

וּנְתַנֶּה תּקֶף קְדֻשַּׁת הַיּום. כִּי הוּא נורָא וְאָים
And we proclaim to you the greatness of this day, for it is terrible and awesome.

עוד יִזְכּר לָנוּ אַהֲבַת אֵיתָן, אֲדונֵינוּ.
וּבַבֵּן הַנֶּעֱקַד יַשְׁבִּית מְדַיְּנֵנוּ.
וּבִזְכוּת הַתָּם יוצִיא הַיּום לְצֶדֶק דִּינֵנוּ.
כִּי קָדושׁ הַיּום לַאֲדונֵינוּ:
May he still remember for us the love of the steadfast one (Avraham), our Ruler,
and through the one who was bound (Isaac) may he set to rest our strict judgment,
And through the merit of the pure one (Jacob) may he bring out today a positive decree,
For today is holy to our God!

היום הרת עולם, היום יעמיד במשפט כל יצורי עולמים
Today is the birthday of the world, today all creatures of the world will stand in judgment.

הַיּום תְּאַמְּצֵנוּ:
הַיּום תְּבָרְכֵנוּ:
הַיּום תְּגַדְּלֵנוּ:
Today you will strengthen us - amen!
Today you will bless us - amen!
Today you will raise us up with your greatness - amen!

And on Yom Kippur, we repeat too many times to count, in our liturgy and Torah reading (Vayikra 16:30)
כִּי-בַיּוֹם הַזֶּה יְכַפֵּר עֲלֵיכֶם, לְטַהֵר אֶתְכֶם: מִכֹּל, חַטֹּאתֵיכֶם, לִפְנֵי יְהוָה, תִּטְהָרוּ.
For on this day shall atonement be made for you, to cleanse you; from all your sins shall ye be clean before the LORD.

As this is only a sampling of the times that our rabbis reinforce the power of these special days to transform us each year, I was greatly distressed to see this article on the front page of the Metro section yesterday.
Rabbi Has Message. So Does Cellphone. -
In it, the Times reporters traveled to a number of Reform and Conservative congregations in Manhattan and at each found a variation of the same scene. Congregants frantically walked in and out of the service, checking their cellphones, blackberries and iphones for the latest financial news. At one Conservative shul, the static from so many electronic devices caused their microphones to malfunction.
While I did find out the gravity of the financial situation after the conclusion of the holiday, and while I understand that I don't work on Wall Street, I think that not being able to remove oneself from the world of business on such a special day is both sad and disrespectful. If the news outside is sad, than it is even more of a reason to leave it behind and come together as a community to praise the "author of the universe (אדון הכל) and to pray for a better future.
While I personally would not use an electronic device on Yom Tov out of halachic (Jewish legal) imperative, I would encourage others who do not feel that compulsion, to turn off their communication devices, and instead communicate with their souls and with God, "He who spoke and the world came into being." Wall Street will open after shul and after the holidays. But this day, these days of awe, only come once per year. May we sense their message and seize the power embedded in the words of the machzor and the days themselves. I wish to conclude with one final prayer:
כְּהַיּום הַזֶּה תְּבִיאֵנוּ שָׂשִׂים וּשְׂמֵחִים בְּבִנְיַן שָׁלֵם:
כַּכָּתוּב וַהֲבִיאותִים אֶל הַר קָדְשִׁי וְשִׂמַּחְתִּים בְּבֵית תְּפִלָּתִי עולתֵיהֶם וְזִבְחֵיהֶם לְרָצון עַל מִזְבְּחִי כִּי בֵיתִי בֵּית תְּפִלָּה יִקָּרֵא לְכָל הָעַמִּים:
On a day such as this may you bring us, glad and rejoicing in the rebuilding of Shalem (=Jerusalem, but lit. wholeness, completion, peace), as it is written (Isaiah 56:7):Even them will I bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer; their burnt-offerings and their sacrifices shall be acceptable upon Mine altar; for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.


Shabbat Shalom and G'mar Chatima Tovah!

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