Ellul: The Ascent to The Days of Awes: A Seder and Siddur
Imagine this: New Years Eve, Times Square, a million people with hats and horns awaiting midnight. But wait. Everyone is sober. Prayers are flashing on the big screen:
O Lord, Lord, a God of mercy and grace bless us all with this vision of your face: As you are merciful we will be merciful. As You are gracious we will be gracious. As You are holy we will be holy, long suffering righteous and upright.
As the clock strikes twelve all the former tribes are united and together sound the Rams horn. Happy New Year.
So much for fantasy.
The reality: The prayers for the Jewish New Year are on behalf of “all the inhabitants of the earth.” We do pray for everyone. Everyone is judged at this time of year. At some point Americans are going to seek a liturgy of remembrance for September 11th. We begin the process with Psalm 27911 in this Seder.
A SECOND CHANCE: THE ASCENT
We are about to start a journey that will take us from the end of the Hebrew month Menachem Av to Simchat Torah, the holiday of rejoicing in the Law. We will sanctify time by reliving some major events in our history. For the entire Hebrew month of Elul we will prepare for the Days of Awe by ordering the chaos of our lives through prayer meditation and soul searching. We will prepare for Rosh Hashanah, Judgment Day, as any intelligent person about to appear in court. What is the case against us? Who will give us advice on how to prepare?
When will the verdict be issued? Who is prosecuting? Who will stand with me to offer a defense? If guilty, do I admit my guilt? How do I achieve forgiveness and atonement?
On the 30th day of Menachem Av, we begin to put the broken pieces of our lives back together. The broken pieces of the Tablets were placed in the Ark of the Covenant for safekeeping. Our brokenness becomes holy when we reconstruct our lives into a whole. We are offered a second chance, as we were when, as a people, we worshiped the Golden Calf.
Moses begins his second forty day ascent of the sacred mountain on this date. He arrives on the peak on the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. The prayers of Moses for mercy are answered, and we are told that God forgives “As you ask,”
(Numbers 14: 20). The verse may also be translated “according to your words and deeds.”
Our words in the thirty day period of the Hebrew month Elul preceding The Ten Days of Awe are preparations for our pleas on Rosh Hashanah for the mercy of the court. Our deeds focus on making amends to all those we may have harmed. Our metaphor is an ascent up the Mountain, following in the footsteps of our great leader. We arrive on the Arête of the mountain on Yom Kippur. There we receive the revelation of how to acquire the sum of all good moral and ethical attributes, which is also the meaning of Arête. The Arête may also be a place of danger if we do not understand the Ten Teachings, and that morality is defined by a specific ethic. The base of the mountain is also a place of danger. We have built there our various Houses of Worship to experience community. They are modeled on the ancient Temple in Jerusalem and reenact the service of the High Priest. We forget the High Priest was reenacting the ascent of Moses. For this reason we begin our Seder with the following modern Midrash (based on The Dybbick (S.Anski) :
Among the Holy Lands of the world is Israel. In Israel the holiest city is Jerusalem. There the holiest place is The Temple. In the Temple the holiest place is The Holy of Holies.
Among the holy people of the world is Israel. Holiest among Israel are the tribe of Levi. The holiest Levites are the priests. The holiest priest is the high priest.
Among the days of the year the holidays are called Holy. Higher than the holydays is the Sabbath. Among The Sabbaths is The Sabbath of Sabbaths, The Day of Atonement.
Among the holy languages is Hebrew. The most holy Hebrew is the Torah. The holiest Torah is The Ten teachings. The holiest teaching is The Name of God.
Only once during the year are all these at one. On Yom Kippur the high priest pronounced the awesome and unutterable Name. This was a moment of danger for the priest and all of Israel. If the priest had a sinful thought or mispronounced the unutterable Name the world would be judged for destruction.
Every Day is Judgment Day whether we know it or not. Every person, being created in Gods Image, is a high Priest. Every place our feet step may be made holy. Today is The Day of Atonement if you speak with sincerity The Name of God.
This is my favorite reading for The Days of Awe. My favorite teaching is by the Kelemer Maggid, (as mentioned in our Purim Seder ) a great preacher and teacher, who asked: Why is The day of Atonement called in Hebrew Yom ki Purim , a day like Purim?
On Purim we masquerade, and so too on Yom Kippur when we masquerade as pious Jews.
Remember the spiritual law of gravity states that what goes up must come down. This Seder teaches us how to put our lives in order and to pray from the heart. Enjoy.
Elul: The Ascent Begins
We prepare for The Ten days of Awe the entire preceding month of Elul. We recite Psalm 27 from The first day of Elul until Simchat Torah to frame the “High Holy” days from beginning to end. At the end of the Psalm we proclaim that even if we are orphaned and friendless, and feel deserted we still desire to walk with God on the path of Torah.
The Psalm continues “Oy, what would I be without this hope.” We read the Hebrew Lule as Elul. During Elul we hope to see the goodness of the Lord in our daily lives. We fill our Forty days with prayer and repentance. Then we build a Sukkah to remind ourselves we remain sons and daughters of Jonah still striving to be the best person we can be. What goes up into the head must come down to the feet. We return from the top of the mountain, where we have received the reconstructed Tablets and we are ready to dance on Simchat Torah.
Why do we need an entire month to prepare for The Ten days of Awe? Why not do simple countdowns from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur? We begin to formulate an answer with the help of Rabbi Abraham J. Twersky M.D.
Changing character and behaviors requires time. We tithe more than a tenth of the time of a year to reflect on our persistent failures. The period of Repentance is even longer if we count from the 9th of Av to Yom Kippur. Dr. Twersky explains that the two are linked. On the 9th of Av we weep over the greatness we have lost, and on Yom Kippur we imagine all we may become and are filled with joy.
Everyone needs a ram’s horn (Shofar) for this forty-day journey.
In all other Seders we invite God to dine with us. This Seder invites you to order your thoughts and prayers before you go to sleep and upon awakening. As simply as possible this Siddur highlights the prayers we say during our ascent to the Arête (Revelation.)
On Rosh Hashanah we have a new Seder, and a countdown, and on Yom Kippur we also return to our tables for a Seder before the fast.
We conclude with a Siddur for The Day of Atonement, a study of Jonah and a service to welcome Elijah the prophet to bring his insights into the New year. Enjoy.
THE SEDER OF SHEMA AT BEDTIME
We begin this Seder on the 30th day of the Hebrew month Menachem Av. I understand Menachem Av to mean we comfort our Father in Heaven by acknowledging all of our failings as people and as a people. From Av to Elul we transition from lamentation to Tikkun. We pray that we learn how to fix our bodies, our hearts, our minds and our soul. We pray that we relearn the Ten Words that teach us how to rebuild the world. We pray that we learn how to go to bed at night and how to awaken every morning. I highly recommend you continue with The Shema at Bedtime after Yom Kippur and throughout the year.
In our Seder for the 9th of Av we learned how to awaken and now we learn how to go to sleep. The founder of the Chassidic movement, Rabbi Israel, The Baal Shem Tov, teaches that unless we acknowledge that God renews the work of creation every day our practice of religion becomes rote and grows old and tired and tedious. This is learned from the Psalm “Cast me not off in the time of my old age”, which means do not let my world grow old. This is also learned in Lamentations, “They are new every morning, great is Thy faithfulness” In other words God trusts that we will renew our world each day, following her example.
The first Rashi of the first tractate of the Talmud teaches the importance of The Shema at bedtime. With great Awe we proclaim that God alone is Lord over our existence. We proclaim our love for God in every dimension of reality. Being receptive to the deep truths of Kabballah we say:
REBONO SHEL OLAM
Designer of all Worlds
I now forgive All
Who have harmed me or done me wrong
Against my body or spirit
With intent or by accident
In word or deed
In this life or any incarnation
I forgive all who have trespassed against me.
May it be your will
That I experience you as my God
As well as The God of my ancestors
That I turn from transgression
That I not repeat my persistent failures
And that my actions awaken your mercy
And that I do good, as you command.
Forgive my trespasses
Show me a face of compassion as atonement
And not sickness or suffering.
May the Words of my mouth guide the meditations of my heart
The actions of my hands and direction of my feet thus being acceptable to You, O Lord, my Rock and Redeemer.
Listen, struggle to hear, O Israel, The Lord is our God, The Lord Alone.
The Coming of Your Kingdom Proclaimed to Eternity when:
You will Love The Lord your God with all your heart, and soul, and might. Take this instruction to heart, the teachings are given today. Let your children cut their teeth on them. Debate them today and every day in your home, and even when you journey. Do all of this every evening and morning. Bind them to your hands and they will guide your minds eye. Write them on the doorposts of your homes and on your gates.
May I lie down in Peace
May I awaken in Peace
Let my sleep be tranquil
May I awaken renewed.
In the name of the Lord God of Israel may Michael the Angel be at my right, Gabriel at my left, Urial in front of me and Rapael behind. May the Shechina hover over me.
I am in Awe.
I am about to recite my confession
And vow never again
To live a life of transgression.
Traditionally we stand for the communal confession:
We: abuse, betray, (are) cruel, destroy, embitter, falsify, gossip, hate, insult, jeer, kill, lie, mock, neglect, oppress, pervert, quarrel, rebel, steal transgress. We are unkind violent, wicked, xenophobic, yielding to evil, zealots for darkness and death.
Sit or lay down:
Into your hand I commit my spirit
When I sleep and when I wake,
I have no fear, atonement near
In bodyandsoul I shall be whole.
SIDDUR OF DAILY PRAYERS
The moment we awaken, as our eyes open we daily offer this Tisha b Av prayer:
Modah ani lefanecha melech chai v kiyam sh hachazarta B nismatea bechemla raba emunatecha.
I awaken in your presence, living and sustaining God. You have mercifully restored my soul. Great is your faith in me.
The Lord is my Shepard; I shall not want
Tucking us into green bedded pastures
Leading us to the still waters; restoring our souls
For on this day we walk down streets and avenues of darkness © Rabbi Lawrence Aryeh Alpern
Overshadowed by death; and we are afraid.
Only when you are with us, Lord our God
Do we feel no harm
Only your rule and your staff comfort.
Our Tables remain spread
In full view of our foes
We offer to share our bounty
The cup that runneth over.
But those drunk on hatred
Prefer to murder in Gods Name.
Still, we anoint our heads with the oil
Of the branch in the mouth of the dove
Surely saved in this goodness mercy and love.
O lord this day has been a lifetime.
We pray we dwell in your house forever
A house of prayer for all who seek your name of Peace.
The Lord is my Light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the strength of my life; who should I be afraid of?
Evil men fly at us from all directions; to slander and eat us alive
Devoured by their hatred; homicides and suicides.
One thing we ask and one thing we seek:
The Lord in our hearts all the days of our life
To observe the Lords loveliness in every neighbor.
To be merciful as God is merciful.
O Lord you alone our shelter and protection
Peace your Tabernacle and foundation stone.
Our enemies have raised our heads to the cries of the sacrificed
Each of the thousands a suffering servant and atonement.
But a veil of dust and destruction clouds our vision;
Have you rejected us O Lord? Have you abandoned us? Why have you forsaken me?
We feel like a child whose own parents have attempted to drown.
O lord when the cloud lifts lead us not into the temptation of hate
We commit into your hands, and spirit, and we wait.
This day always in the season of the fall,
Also the time when your teachings, O lord transform knowledge to life.
The Rams horn is sounded and we hear your call.
We believe we will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living
So trust in the Lord, hope and patiently wait. Take courage.
The Lord God who is mercy will strengthen You.
Hope and just wait!
THE GREAT COMMAND: OUR MISSION STATEMENT
Kavvannah: Our great teacher Rambam teaches that the greatest commandment leads to repentance. We are commanded to love God with all “Your heart and Soul” Deuteronomy 6:5. Our love of God is according to our knowledge. The Song of Songs teaches the wisdom of intimacy. Loving God we learn to love one another. Love means not harming others, being honest in business, defining the world as our neighborhood and every individual as our neighbor. This love leads to repentance. Then we hear and live the teachings of the “I am God.” (Leviticus 19:18)
Al melech ne eh man
God is our true leader,
God is truth.
The Lord is a True God,
God trusts we will be true
In God we trust.
Our God is a true God.
Listen, struggle to hear, O Israel, The Lord is our God, The Lord Alone.
The Coming of Your Kingdom Proclaimed to Eternity when:
We love you, ya the great ah ha va (AHVH) with heart and soul and our very being. Your wor(l)ds heard and created anew every day I place upon my heart.( I pray they sink in).
Raise up sharp students speaking loves wisdom in the home and on vacation, every evening and morning.
Give hands to your heart by focusing your minds eye.
Write all this on the mezzuzoat of your dwellings, your gates, the gates of your cities and the gates of your nations.
This is the Lord our Gods order of holiness. True.
May these words awaken my heart to your Presence.
I am not worthy to stand before you in prayer
So hear me in the names of my righteous ancestors.
I am in search of your true path to order my life to your word.
I am yours.
Be mine, beloved
V Dodi lee
O, I Am
Take my name
And give me yours
Help me to know that which is righteous
To master the mystery, to order my chaos
Imitating creation, in this, my new beginning.
Forgive my transgressions
As I forgive those who have trespassed against me.
Return and dwell in your Zion of Peace
Fill our hearts and homes and sanctuaries
With the blessings of your Mountain home
A House of Prayer ofAll The Nations.