July/August 2015 scroll article

     In life there is the carousel and the roller coaster. The carousel is the part of life in which we go through cycles (or maybe spirals). We revolve through our year with little ups and downs doing our routines of daily existence. There is also a part of life with bigger swings of energy, growth and change. This is the roller coaster consisting of big moments, challenges and simchas, marked by rites of passage. Some are planned: graduations, weddings and B’nai Mitzvah. Others are unexpected like illness, finding a life partner, or changing jobs. If we stop to think about our life experience we can see the carousel and the roller coaster. We can also recognize that the skills and resources we call on to help and guide us through a carousel are different than what we need to navigate and assimilate the experiences of the rollercoaster.

     As we enter these summer months, I call attention to this paradigm because this year has had a change in the resources we use for these motions of life. Last August, we started using Mishkan T’filah. Published in 2006, this siddur of the Reform movement has been part of our regular Shabbat worship for almost a full year. We have fully integrated Mishkan T’filah into our congregation’s life: on Friday night, with B’nai Mitzvah services and in our Religious School. We have become familiar with it’s layout and it’s subtle changes from the translations we know from Gates of Prayer. Mishkan T’filah is our resource for the worship that carries us through the carousel of the year.

     The name Mishkan T’filah is instructive. Mishkan is a reference to the Tabernacle/Tent of Meeting the Israelites constructed and used during their wandering in the wilderness. This meeting was the place of ritual to interact with G!d’s presence. T’filah is the Hebrew word for prayer. The siddur is the tool we use to gather regularly in prayer as a community and connect with the Divine. The title contrasts with the title of the new Machzor we will be using this year on the High Holy Days, Mishkan HaNefesh. Based on Mishkan T’filah, Mishkan HaNefesh updates the liturgy of Gates of Repentance.

     The Hebrew is transliterated. The translations are clearer. It has commentary to supplement our worship experience and most importantly, we will all be using the same edition. While Mishkan HaNefesh is based on the layout of Mishkan T’filah, it has a signficant difference. Mishkan T’filah has multiple options for any one prayer on its two page layout. It is designed so that as we go through the carousel of weekly prayer, we can make small adjustments to match the variety of life. Mishkan HaNefesh is for the roller coaster of the High Holy Days. Rather than multiple choices for any one reading, Mishkan HaNefesh includes more commentary and poetry at each stage to enrich the experience as we move through these High Holy Days. We only go through the each stage of the holiday once, so each step must have resources to enrich the soul and build the energy of these days. 

     Summer is the perfect time to reflect on the carousel and roller coaster. We have a few months leading up to the High Holy Days. Join us for a few Shabbatot and feel the rhythm of our community as we use Mishkan T’filah to move through the regular cycles of life. Reach out to me and make a time to join me in reviewing the new Machzor (holiday prayerbook). Join us for a Curious Class on Mishkan HaNefesh, or help set up the honors for the High Holy Days. Both are great ways to see the new book and think about how it can be a resource to move our souls to a place that high and holy.
Beyond experiencing the siddur and machzor, as the days start to get shorter and we go through our weekly cycle and start to build toward the climax of our High Holy Days, take time to be conscious of how you move through time and space. Consider the flow of energy from day to day, week to week and month to month. Don’t just go through the motions, feel them, let them empower you and make the most of them.

Rabbi Michael Birnholz