Thursday, September 12, 2013

Thoughts Before Yom Kippur

Thoughts Shared with the Congregation This Yom Kippur (published in a pamphlet. . . )

Forgiveness on Yom Kippur – Which Direction?

Central to our prayer experience on Yom Kippur is asking God that we be forgiven and asking those around us to forgive us, too.  Rabbi Ungar writes meaningfully above about some of the issues involved in seeking forgiveness, especially from others, as well as our obligation to forgive others.

In fact, forgiving may be at the heart of this whole process, and more central than we typically imagine.  If we begin with forgiving others, we may be much readier or much more eligible to ask for forgiveness ourselves.  The response to the Kol Nidrei prayer is assurance of forgiveness and the phrase Vayomer Adonai Salachti Kidvarecha—“I have forgiven, as you have asked.”

But what about forgiving what has not been asked?  Each of us carries the burden of things we haven’t forgiven.  We think it’s because the act was unforgiveable or we haven’t been asked.  But the burden of it really turns out to be our burden.  Think of something that you haven’t previously been able to forgive.  Let go of it and you will see that it is liberating to you and can bring you closer to the person involved.  Letting go of this canker inside you will free you up to be more generally forgiving, and in a better mood to ask (and hopefully receive) forgiveness. 

For a demonstration, (after the holiday) check out Ikar LA’s I Forgive You on YouTube. After that, please forgive me.  (I’ve already forgiven you!)

More about the liturgy and music of Yom Kippur. . .

KOL NIDREI:  The paragraph of Kol Nidrei is a legal formula developed by the Rabbis which annuls only those vows which are made between humans and God.  Tradition suggests, for its three repetitions, 1st softly, like someone hesitating before entering the royal palace; the 2nd time, a bit more confidently; the 3rd time like someone who feels comfortable in the royal court and approaches the ruler like a friend.  We will echo this progression by having the first recitation as a solo, the 2nd with the choir, and the 3rd together with the entire congregation.  Please sing!

After the Amidah comes the beautiful piyyut (poem) Yaaleh (223).  A reverse anacrostic, it describes poetically the emotional arc of the day.  The prayers Shomeia T’filah (224) and Han’shamah Lach (225) are among those special Missinai tunes heard especially with these passages – and only on Selichot and Yom Kippur.  What beautiful texts – full of yearning and appreciation of the breath of life.  The piyyut Ki Hinei Kachomer (227) envisions God as potter, mason, craftsman, glass-blower, etc – God as shaping creator.   

SELIHOT AND VIDUI: Two highlights of the prayers of penitence (Selihot) are El Melech Yoshev (229) and Sh’ma Koleinu.  The choir’s version of El Melech Yoshev is a very dramatic setting by the composer-conductor Zavel Zilberts (1881-1949).  Conductor of the Workmen’s Circle Choir and others in the 1920s, he was an extremely influential figure in the world of traditional Jewish music.  Our Sh’ma Koleinu (233) melody is from Shlomo Carlebach. 

The Vidui section (234) is the group of confessional prayers which we find in our Yom Kippur and Selihot services.  This includes Ashamnu (235).  Remember that the major third in the ay-ay-ays may sound happy to us 21st century Americans, but in the tradition of Jewish music, this note is meant to imply our vulnerability, our rawness, and our emotional pain in the act of confession.  (I loved this little melody as a child—but what we should love is that we are casting out our sins through confessing them; rather than rejoicing in naming them!)

YOM KIPPUR MORNING: Among the prayers in which the Choir will participate in Shacharit is Tavo L’fanecha (263). The choir will sing Samuel Naumbourg (1815-1880, Chief Cantor of Paris)’s musical setting of this prayer.  This composition beautifully expresses the disappointment of arriving with a full list of transgressions annually, despite our best intentions. 

YIZKOR: The Yizkor service (290) begins with the Choir singing Enosh by Louis Lewandowski.  This familiar text, which is not present in our Machzor, is taken from Psalm 103:  The days of mortals are as grass.  We flourish like a flower in the field.  The wind passes over it and it is gone, and none can even recognize where it grew.  But God’s compassion is from forever to forever for those who fear God; so is God’s righteousness to their children’s children.  Lewandowski’s musical setting beautifully brings this awe-inspiring text to life.  Also heard in the Yizkor service is Gerald Cohen's soothing setting of the 23rd Psalm - Adonai Roi (293).

YOM  KIPPUR MUSAPH: The Yom Kippur Musaph is lengthy in a different way from the Rosh Hashanah Musaph.  On Rosh Hashanah, we had Malchuyot, Zichronot and Shofrot, pages and pages of Torah, Prophets and Writings verses on the themes of God’s Sovereignty, Remembrance, and Shofar Soundings.  On Yom Kippur, the Musaph includes (in addition to the aforementioned selichot and vidui portions) a Martyrology service and the Avodah Service recalling the majesty of the ancient Temple. 

As on Rosh Hashanah, the Musaph begins with the haunting Hatzi Kaddish (298), Silent Amidah (300), Hin’ni (312), and the start of the repetition of the Amidah (313).  The early highlight of this section of the service is the Un’taneh Tokef.  The beautiful lyrical duet of B’rosh Hashanah (315) by Meir Finkelstein will be sung again by Gabrielle Cohen, Halley Dunn, Marissa Madison, Allison Meyer, along with meAfter the Great Alenu (325) comes a significant Yom Kippur insertion: the Avodah service (326) recalling the annual purification ritual by the High Priest in the Temple in Jerusalem.  The MiSinai tune which is chanted to V’hakohanim (330, 331, 332) is reminiscent in its own way of Gregorian chant, which itself may have been an imitation (or later manifestation) of the chant of the Temple. 

MINCHAH:  The Minchah service (361) led by our beloved Jerry Benis is noted for a Torah reading (363) sung in the ordinary Torah chant (as opposed to the High Holiday version heard this morning and on Rosh Hashanah) and the mind-boggling Haftarah (367) – the Book of Jonah.  Maftir Yonah is being chanted by some of our high schoolers this year:  Talia Rozenbojm,Orri Benatar, Micah Goldson, Lily Sline, Aaron Abramowitz, Jenna Rodier, and Gabrielle Cohen.   As the afternoon deepens and we approach. . .

N’ILAH: The N’ilah service (392) provides us with our last opportunity to plead our cause in the spiritual marathon which is Yom Kippur.  The Sephardic hymn El Nora Alilah (407) is sung prior to the repetition of the  N’ilah Amidah.  You will hear two different but related melodies.  The first, for the refrain, is in a western (Spanish Portuguese) style.  The second, for the verses, is more typical of world Sephardic practices and the source of the melody.

The melodies unique to this service create a special sound picture to bind us to the conclusion of Yom Kippur in years past, whether in our lives or in those of our people over many hundreds of years.  The nusach melody of N’ilah is evocative of walking carefully forward as we prepare to leave the divine presence—as, indeed, the gates close before us.  Special unique MiSinai melodies are heard at Sh’ma Na (410), P’tach Lanu Sha’ar (414), Enkat M’saldecha (416), and Rachem Na (419).  Passages on 421 and 422 are quite distinct from the “boilerplate” of the rest of Yom Kippur amidahs.  Who among us would not be moved by these two pages of liturgy?  We hope, of course, that God is also moved!

We conclude the day’s observances with the Ma’ariv weekday prayer (445), followed by Havdalah (459) and the affirmations (429)  of Sh’ma (1x), Baruch Shem (3x), and Adonai Hu HaElohim (7x).  Followed of course by a t’kiah g’dolah and the chanting of Lashanah Haba-ah biY’rushalayim—next year in Jerusalem.  May it be so!

G’mar chatimah tovah—may you have a good seal in the Book of Life for the coming year.

Cantor Jack Chomsky

(page #s are in Mahzor Lev Shalem)

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