The Jewish Chronicle shares a beautiful insight from 20th century rosh yeshivah, Rabbi Yizchak Hutner, who said: “A Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur machzor without tear stains is like a Pesach haggadah with no wine marks - you can tell that it hasn't really been used.”* One could, perhaps, say the same about dried wax drops on a chanukiah, or yellowed atara (neckband) of a tallit.
Over the course of the next couple of years, many of our UPJ congregations will be making the switch from Gates of Repentance to the new machzor for our movement in the region, called Mishkan Teshuvah. These new books will not bear the tear stains of the old, but as we journey through the High Holy Day liturgy in years to come—however differently presented on the page—new tears will surely fall to the page. Their stains will crown the letters and adorn the words, telling of our travels through life, its challenges and homecomings, its trials and bereavements. For the journey from one end of the aseret y’mei teshuvah (ten days of repentance) to the other will take us on the same drama as always before—from Eden to the End of Days.
Yes, this is the journey we take each year, from the moment on Erev Rosh Hashanah when we proclaim the new Jewish year as the anniversary of Creation to the close of the N’ilah service at the end of Yom Kippur when we recite the seven-fold repetition of “Adonai Hu HaElohim” (Adonai is God). Why does the latter phrase merit such emphasis in our High Holy Day liturgy?
The phrase comes from the story of Elijah the prophet in the Book of Kings. In the paradigmatic battle for the soul of the people, Elijah stages a showdown between the false god, Ba’al, and the “God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel,” Adonai. Adonai comes through for Elijah, and the people proclaim that indeed Adonai is God. They proclaim it twice (1 Kgs. 18:39). We proclaim it seven times—poetically hearkening back to the seven days of Creation with which the yamim noraimbegan. As tradition teaches that Elijah will herald the coming of the Messiah at the End of Days, the message is clear: the yamim noraim have the power to take us full circle, from the Eden at the beginning of time to the Eden our sages believed we would return to at the end of time. The way we spend these ten days of repentance really matters—it may be our last chance for teshuvah, and the stakes are really high!
This was the drama of the sages. It may or may not move us today. But we can be sure that something will, for this is a season of drama, poetry, memory, and the making and removing of stains. Our lives are the stage. The machzor is the script. God is the Author of life, and you are the playwright. G’mar chatimah tovah.
-- Rabbi Nicole Roberts, North Shore Temple Emanuel, Chatswood, NSW