Today is December 15, 2019 -

The High Holy Days: Blending Communal & Personal Prayer

By Hazzan Michael Krausman

As we approach the High Holy Days we are mindful of the power of communal Jewish Prayer. The pathos of Kol Nidre, the heart-pounding litany of the public confessional, the drama of Unitane Tokef depicting us as sheep passing before an omnipotent Shepherd, the singing of Avinu Malkeinu and other traditional melodies – all of these experiences galvanize us as a prayer community and reinforce our connection to our communal and personal history.

However, our tradition places great value on individual prayer as well. Perhaps this is the reason why we often recite salient parts of the service, such as the Amidah (an established collection of blessings that forms the core of every Jewish service) both individually and communally; each recitation with its own nuances. So, too, the structure of our worship services allows for the insertion of personal prayers, such as those for healing, within the framework of the formal liturgy. Each of us is encouraged to add individual supplications or prayers that come from the heart. Interestingly, many of these personal supplications became codified throughout the ages and have actually made their way into the prayer book. The latter is the origin of much of the poignant poetry which embellishes the core framework of our liturgy.

One of these gems that I find so compelling, especially as we draw near to the High Holy Days, is found as part of the weekday liturgy in a collection of petitions and supplications know as Tachanun. With the exception of particularly sad or joyous occasions, Tachanun immediately follows the weekday morning and afternoon Amidah. Interestingly, portions of the prayers that comprise Tachanun can be found in the Selichot (penitential) prayers recited in a special evening service that introduces the High Holy Days and again throughout Yom Kippur. The poem, upon which I wish to focus, was composed by the great Ninth Century sage Rav Amram Gaon. Rav Amram was the leader of the great Babylonian Talmudic Academy of Sura, and is credited with being the creator of the first known Siddur (prayer book). When I read this prayer it touches me in a deep way because it strikes me that Rav Amram has encapsulated all that we could wish for, all that we need, all that we dare ask for as we are about to encounter the High Holy Days.

“May it be Your will, Adonai our God and God of our ancestors, that You grant us a good heart and a generous spirit, humility and modesty, and good companions. May Your name not be profaned through us. May we not become a source of gossip or derision. May our future not end in failure, nor our hopes languish in despair. May we not be dependent upon the gifts of others, for such gifts are meager and the embarrassment they cause is great. Grant us a share in Your Torah with all who do Your will. Save us from all harsh decrees; with Your abundant love help Your messiah and Your people. Avinu Malkenu, [our parent and monarch] turn us not away from You empty-handed. Answer our prayers, not for our sake, but to honor Your name by Your love and Your faithfulness. Be gracious to a people who declare that You are One, affirming twice each day, with love: ‘Hear O Israel: Adonai is our God, Adonai alone’.”

May we all be blessed with the actualization of all of our sincere individual and communal prayers in the year to come.

On behalf of Laurel, Zev and Zach, best wishes to all of the members of our Beth El family and their dear ones for a Shana Tova U’Mituka – a good, sweet New Year!