Praying the Words of Our Hearts

by Rabbi Audrey Pollack, August 27, 2020

As we prepare for the High Holidays of 5781, I am finding comfort in the familiarity of the liturgy, and the sounds, the melodies and the rhythms of the preparation for this, the holiest season of the Jewish year. I am grateful for the opportunity to engage my heart and mind in daily spiritual practice during the month of Elul, and to join together weekly with a group of you from our Solel community to reflect and support each other in this practice. As I reread familiar passages this year, both in the machzor, and in two books that are my yearly companions on this Elul journey, I was reminded of the teaching of Rabbi Mordecai of Nadvorna. One year, shortly before Rosh Hashanah one of his students came to ask permission to leave his studies early. Rabbi Mordecai asked, “Why are you in such a hurry?” The student responded, I need to examine my machzor (High Holiday prayer book) and put my prayers in order. Rabbi Mordecai said to him, “The machzor is the same as it was last year, better for you to examine your deeds and put yourself in order!”

This year it does not seem like enough to put ourselves in order. With all of the tumult of this year, while there is familiarity there is also dissonance. We will be observing Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in a very different way this year, at home rather than at our synagogue. So while I am grateful for the spiritual preparations of Elul, I am also very cognizant of the extra preparations that we are making to put it all in order this year.

Within this September issue of the Solel Shammas, and on our website, you will find information about the upcoming High Holiday calendar, and opportunities and resources to help you to get ready for 5781. We look forward to joining together online for our High Holiday services coming to you from our sanctuary at

I encourage you to use the resources provided to prepare your own sacred space at home for the High Holidays, try out some craft ideas, make your favorite recipes, prepare for Yizkor by gathering photos, mementos and a memorial candle to light, join us for Zoom gatherings, and learning, and make a plan to share this season with friends or family members on the phone, or on videoconference.

And, take some time to put yourself in order. Engage in personal reflection: Where were you spiritually last year at this time? Where are you today? How are you different? Part of the process of teshuva is looking back in order to be aware of our present. This work enables us to think about the changes we wish to work towards for 5781. Where do you wish to be a year from now? Write and reflect on these questions. Save them for you to look at next year.

In my rereading of familiar passages this year, I took particular comfort in this passage from Midrash T’hilim, the Midrashic commentary on the book of Psalms.

Said the Holy One to Israel:
I asked you to pray in the synagogue of your city
but if you cannot pray in the synagogue,
pray outdoors in an open field;
and if you cannot pray in the field,
pray in the shelter of your home;
and if you cannot pray in your home,
pray in the dark on your bed;
and if you cannot pray on your bed,
meditate in your heart without words.
– Based on Midrash T’hilim on Psalm 4:9. (1050-1450 CE)

In this pandemic year, these words reflect the reality of others who came before us, who in their time were also not able to pray in the synagogue together. So they prayed outdoors in open fields, or in their own homes, maybe with family members, maybe alone. Perhaps they too were isolated due to disease, perhaps just far away from a synagogue. Most of all, they prayed the words of their own hearts. And God heard them. God will hear us too.

L’Shanah Tovah – May we write beautiful new passages in the Book of Life in the coming year,

Rabbi Audrey S. Pollack

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