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:
Some ideas for your text:
Da lifnei mi atah omeid. Know Before Whom you stand.
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.”
מַה־טֹּ֥בוּ אֹהָלֶ֖יךָ יַעֲקֹ֑ב מִשְׁכְּנֹתֶ֖יךָ יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃
How good are your tents, O Jacob, Your sacred places, O Israel!
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.
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.
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.
Rabbi Stephanie Kolin