The Rabbi’s Reflections: Renewing the Soul with Mishkan HaNefesh

As we move towards late summer, we find ourselves in the Hebrew month of Av, followed by Elul. On the 9th of Av, we commemorate the destruction of both Temples in Jerusalem and other tragedies that befell the Jewish people throughout history. Following the 9th of Av, on each Shabbat until Rosh Hashanah, we read the Haftarah from Isaiah. Each of these prophetic readings are messages of comfort. They are intended to repair our collective souls, to comfort us in our communal mourning and to prepare us for greeting the New Year. Isaiah speaks to us, “Comfort oh comfort My people…” and a couple weeks later, we listen when he says, “Great shall be the happiness of your children; You shall be established through righteousness and shall be safe…” Isaiah calls us gently to repair. He speaks to us in our brokenness. He understands that we need rest from the storms, respite from toil.

This summer has allowed me the time to rest and renew. I spent a few weeks traveling and learning, journeying through ancient lands, taking time to consider the questions of the present in Greece and in Israel. And I spent a very enriching time learning at the Shalom Hartman Center. Several hours a day, I was able to study with my colleagues in classes, groups and hevruta (text study with a few others). We grappled with interesting questions of history and future, trying to understand our present in the words of Torah and Talmud, Midrash and Poetry. We shared challenges and ideas with one another. I am thankful to you, my congregation, for the time to renew and refresh. To find rest and respite. To have time to prepare, to face the New Year and beyond.

We find ourselves listening to Isaiah’s words with a new ear this year. For we will be praying this Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur from our new High Holy Day prayerbook (machzor). It will feel a little broken in places. Although there are new and innovative prayers, we will also be comforted by traditional words and timeless themes. We will sing the same music that is so central to our worship, finding respite in the familiarity of sounds. We will be comforted by one another as we explore the pages of this new book together, even as you might want to veer off the page and onto another on your own (it’s okay to not pay attention a bit!).

Our new machzor is called Mishkan HaNefesh, Sanctuary of the Soul. I hope that you will find that the transliteration invites you to participate. I hope that you will engage with its words, understanding (as the editors did) that we come to God, and to repentance and repair, in different ways. I pray that your soul finds some comfort, respite and renewal in our worship together. We will pray and study with one another as we greet the New Year. In preparation, we will explore the themes of renewal in Mishkan HaNefesh in our Selichot study on Saturday evening, September 5th. I look forward to being with you.

Rabbi Sigma Faye Coran
Senior Rabbi