Union for Reform Judaism Member Congregation

Creating a Mikdash M’at: A Holy Habitat in Preparation for a Meaningful  High Holy Days

Rabbi Stephanie Kolin, Union Temple

There are many ways that this year’s High Holy Days experience may feel different than other years may have felt, but perhaps none of them are so extreme as our physical location. We find ourselves in our homes or offices, in Brooklyn or literally anywhere else across the world. We can be anywhere, except for our own familiar Sanctuary, shoulder to shoulder with friends, family, neighbors, and soon-to-be friends. We won’t gaze at our beautiful ark or smell the familiar smells of NYC in the fall. We won’t have the dramatic uplighting of our striking stained-glass windows or the feel of our regular seat beneath us.

In fact, we might be in the very same place where we work during the week, cook in the evenings, help our kids with their homework, pay our bills, and Zoom with friends. Those may, indeed, all be the same exact chair or room. And yet—we have a chance to create something beautiful in our spaces this year.

When the Temple was destroyed in 70 CE, and the Jewish people were exiled from their holy place, the rabbis declared: God will dwell in the holy spaces we create, for they are the Temple in miniature, a “mikdash m’at” (Babylonian Talmud, Megilah 29a). In this way, synagogues and homes were turned into holy places where meaningful Jewish life could unfold. So today, as we turn our homes, bedrooms, offices, balconies, beds, or kitchen tables into prayer spaces, we also have a chance to create a mikdash m’at, a small holy place from which we can get into a good head/heart space to enter into the High Holy Days together.

Below are some ideas of ways to prepare our prayer spaces at home, in advance of the High Holy Days, so that as we sit down for prayer, even in these challenging times, we might feel different, elevated, open, and ready.

Elevating our Habitats and our Hearts:

  1. We start with acknowledging that we may not have the time, bandwidth, resources, or ability to change anything about our space. Maybe you have kids running around, a more than full time job, a mental health challenge, exhaustion, or any other number of obstacles to changing your space. Reb Nachman teaches us: find a room to pray. If you can’t find a room, pray under a tallis. If you can’t pray under a tallis, crawl into your bed and pray under your cover. Our truest mikdash m’at is our hearts. If we can’t prepare or change our space at all, then the place you have and from which you pray is perfect just as it is. The heart is capable of praying in every circumstance.
  2. Where will you place your set up? Can you be near a window? Can you see the sky or a tree or a tuft of grass? Can you be somewhere where your view is not stressful? Is there a distracting mirror, sink full of dishes, or pile of work that needs to be out of your scope of vision? Where you sit and what you see sets the stage—is there a special makom, place, for you?
  3. Place objects that are beautiful to you on the table or nearby, where you can see them. A shofar, apples, pomegranates, art, a family kiddush cup, a seashell that reminds you that you are part of the ocean. Set the stage for entering into prayer.
  4. Place pictures of people you love, would otherwise be sitting with, or who inspire you near you. Perhaps someone you love might draw you a picture for the occasion!
  5. Ask yourself: Am I physically comfortable? If your back is aching or your feet don’t touch the floor, or you’re fidgety, consider using a pillow, or changing up your chair or position.
  6. It’s so easy to be distracted on the computer. You might turn off all of your social media and shut down your email for the duration of the service.
  7. You might choose how to dress up your body. Would wearing more formal clothing, a tallit, or a kippah, such as you might otherwise wear to services help you focus? Would wearing jammies help you get comfy with God? Might you need to wear a cape to be brave enough to enter into your cheshbon hanefesh, the accounting of your soul?
  8. Have you decided how you will access your Machzor, our High Holy Day prayer book? Will you have a physical copy? You can still order one here. Will you use the link we will provide during services and open a separate window on your computer? Use a second device? Knowing this in advance can help you avoid feeling disconnected or rushed.
  9. There is a tradition of having a line of text in your prayer space to help draw your attention to where you want to be and to state a purpose for the space while you are using it. Some ideas for what that text might be are below. Feel free to copy it artistically, print one out, or just tuck it into your heart. Display it or even say it out loud just before services begin, to carve out your space as sacred.

Some ideas for your text:

Brachot 28b:
Da lifnei mi atah omeid. Know Before Whom you stand.

 Genesis 28:17
וַיִּירָא וַיֹּאמַר מַה־נּוֹרָא הַמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה אֵין זֶה כִּי אִם־בֵּית אֱלֹהִים וְזֶה שַׁעַר הַשָּׁמָיִם׃
Shaken, Jacob said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gateway to heaven.” 

Numbers 24:5
מַה־טֹּ֥בוּ אֹהָלֶ֖יךָ יַעֲקֹ֑ב מִשְׁכְּנֹתֶ֖יךָ יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃
How good are your tents, O Jacob, Your sacred places, O Israel! 

Isaiah 56:7
כִּי בֵיתִי בֵּית־תְּפִלָּה יִקָּרֵא לְכָל־הָעַמִּים׃
For My House shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.

Birkat Habayit (home blessing):
בְּזֶה הַשַּׁעַר לֹא יָבוֹא צַעַר
בְּזֹאת הַדִּירָה לֹא תָבוֹא צָרָה
בְּזֹאת הַדֶּלֶת לֺא תָבוֹא בֶּהָלָה
בְּזֹאת הַמַּחְלָקָה לֺא תָבוֹא מַחְלוֺקֶת.
בְּזֶה הַמָּקוֺם תְּהִי בְרָכָה וְשָׁלוֺם

Let no sorrow come through this gate.
Let no trouble come in this dwelling.
Let no fright come through this door.
Let no conflict come to this section.
Let there be blessing and peace in this place.

Exodus 20:21:
בְּכָל־הַמָּקוֹם֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר אַזְכִּ֣יר אֶת־שְׁמִ֔י אָב֥וֹא אֵלֶ֖יךָ וּבֵרַכְתִּֽיךָ
In every place where My name is mentioned, I will come to you and bless you.

Exodus 3:5
כִּ֣י הַמָּק֗וֹם אֲשֶׁ֤ר אַתָּה֙ עוֹמֵ֣ד עָלָ֔יו אַדְמַת־קֹ֖דֶשׁ הֽוּא׃
Indeed, the place on which you stand is holy ground.

A blessing said at Havdalah, used to “separate” this sacred space:
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’, הַמַבְדִּיל בֵּין קֹדֶשׁ לְחוֹל
Baruch Atah Adonai, hamavdil bayn kodesh lechol.
Blessed are You Adonai, who separates between the holy and the ordinary.

The upshot: It’s not HOW we prepare, but THAT we prepare:

You might even just utter these traditional words and then fill in the blank with what you feel ready to do and how you are directing your intentions as the gates of repentance are opening.

הִנְנִי מוּכָן וּמְזוּמָּן לְקַיֵּם מִצְוַת
Hin’ni muchan u-m’zuman l’kayem mitzvat
I am here, ready and prepared to fulfill the mitzvah of . . . .

We are so looking forward to being together in prayer, learning, and community as we enter 5781. We know it won’t be perfect, but who ever said that “perfect” is our measure of what is holy and what we need? May this be a year of health, goodness for you and your loved ones, and sweetness for our world.

With love,

Rabbi Stephanie Kolin