Shanah Tovah: Let Your Imagination Assist Your Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur Prayers

(Here is a version of our earlier message, edited into a short evocative holiday feature for the local Jewish paper.)

As we hold the machzor and siddur in our hands this season and perform its prayer services together we realize that we have in our hands a book with great life and vivid personality.

In the humming and silence, the whirling activity of reading and singing of our services, we find and mine a trove of complex and fascinating words, ideas, themes, tropes, and compositions.

Using a bit of imagination, in the siddur and the synagogue we can find a multidimensional and complex set of religious master characters.

As we take the content of the tefillot and personify it into characters, we find a wide range of personalities.

Scribes are prominent. They value books and learning and Torah. When we read a prayer that came from the liturgical author who speaks as a scribe, we actually articulate and discover that inner scribe in our Jewish psyches.

In our prayers we will also find the priests who value the ancient Temple and its services and the patriarchs who led us in politics, among the panoply of onstage archetypes.

The mystic, for instance, calls out to us from his prayers with the notion that reciting texts brings one into an immediate experience of the divine power. He avers that mysticism is real and that it works.

The healer promotes to us from his texts the certainty that prayers for sick people can make them well.

The bipolar personality of praying proposes that prayers can swing between two divergent moods — an expression from the depths when humans are in despair (oy) and an expression from the heights when humans rejoice (hallelujah).

The meditator personality of prayer wants you to recite and chant your prayers in ways that induce transformations of human states of mind.

The confessor asserts that to utter our sins in a confession assists in our atonement and betters us as Jews and as human beings.

The magical thinker says that the use of formulas and the invocation of divine names in blessings and prayers help us to convince the Deity to act on our behalf.

The community organizer touts to all assembled that they must participate in social gatherings — the formation of communities for prayer via the minyan and the bet knesset.

The musician chants, sings trop, nusach, and niggun, all essential parts of the text and of the performance of prayer.

The monotheist is a big fan of verse one of the Sh’ma, of course.

And the memorialist preaches from our psyches the importance of the services of the Kaddish and Yizkor, the remembrance of our departed.

In these High Holy Days let us imagine the great assembly of all these Jewish personalities rushing around in the synagogue-of-our-psyches and speaking out to the multiple personality facets of God with a great urgency.

Let us visualize the archetypes of the Jew reaching out through these familiar prayers to address the recognized archetypes of our God: God our King. Our Judge. Our Savior. Our Creator. Our Lover. Our Teacher. Our Lawgiver and Legislator.

Those archetypical personalities come from that place that we call our Jewish soul. They are reaching out to the hearing God, seeking a connection via prayer, in an expression of great yearning.

Shanah Tovah.

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