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A Vidui (Before Death)

Jewish tradition contains the practice of reciting a confessional prayer daily, annually, and before death. Some years ago, while in the ALEPH Hashpa'ah (Spiritual Direction)  program, I was assigned the task of writing my own. After I was blessed recently to have the opportunity of sitting with someone who was leaving this life, I was moved to revise and share the prayer I had written.



Vidui (Before Death)

 

Dear One, Source of All Being --
my God and God of my ancestors --
life and death are in Your hands:
hear my prayer.

I reach out to You
as I approach the contractions
which will birth my soul
into whatever comes next.

As my soul chose to enter this life
in order to learn and to love
I prepare now to leave
through an unfamiliar door.

I'm grateful for my place
in the chain of generations.
Grateful for teachers and friends
who have inspired and accompanied me.

I've made mistakes.
Lift them from my shoulders
and bless me with forgiveness.
I open my heart to You.

Help me to let go.
Help me to release regrets
so they don't encumber me
where I'm going.

All who have harmed me
in body, mind, or spirit
in this incarnation or any other --
I forgive them.

May all whom I have harmed
in body, mind, or spirit
in this incarnation or any other
forgive me in turn.

Help my loved ones to know
how deeply I have loved them
and will continue to love them
even when this body is gone.

God, parent of orphans
and defender of widows
be with my beloveds
and bring them comfort.

Into Your hand I place my soul.
You are with me; I have no fear.
As a wave returns to the ocean
I return to the Source from which I came.

שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל ה' אֱלֹהֵינוּ ה' אֶחָד

Hear, O Israel; Adonai is our God; Adonai is One.

 

 

Related:

 

The vidui prayer of Yom Kippur -- and of every night, 2011.

A prayer before departing this life, 2013.


When we are mindful

-1

Judaism believes in the particularity of time, that certain times have special spiritual properties: that Shabbat has an extra degree of holiness; that Pesach (Passover) is the time of our liberation; that Shavuot is a time unusually conducive to revelation. But they have these special properties only when we are mindful. If we consciously observe Shabbat, Shabbat has this holy quality. If we don't, it is merely Friday night, merely Saturday afternoon...

That's Rabbi Alan Lew z"l in the book I reread slowly each year at this season, This Is Real And You Are Completely Unprepared: The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation. Every year I start rereading the book around Tisha b'Av, the day of deep brokenness which launches us in to the season of teshuvah, repentance or return. Every year I find myself drawn to some of the same passages I underlined last year or the year before -- and every year some new passages jump out at me, too.

This year the first new thing I underlined was the quote which appears at the top of this post. I've been thinking a lot lately about sacred time, and about how being aware of where we are in the rhythm of the day and week and the round of the year can help us attune ourselves to spiritual life... and also how being unaware of where we are, or ignoring where we are, can damage that attunement. It's as though lack of mindfulness were a radio scrambler which keeps us from hearing the divine broadcast.

One of the things I love most about my Jewish Renewal hevre (my dear colleague-friends) is that we are jointly committed to seeking mindfulness. To living with prayerful consciousness, as my friends and teachers Rabbi Shawn Zevit and Marcia Prager taught us during DLTI. Knowing others who care about this stuff as much as I do is restorative. It lifts a weight of loneliness off of my shoulders. My hevre inspire me to try to be the kind of person, the kind of Jew, the kind of rabbi, I want to be.

There's much in ordinary life which pulls me away from the awareness I want to maintain. Away from consciousness of Shabbat as holy time, and of its internal flow from greeting the Bride to rejoicing in the Torah to yearning for the divine Presence not to depart. Away from consciousness of the moon and the seasons, and from the process of teshuvah (repentance / return.) Ordinary life is full of obligations, frustrations, distractions, and a whole world of people who don't care about the things I love so deeply.

Sometimes it's a little bit alienating -- carrying this tradition around with me like an extra pair of glasses, an extra lens which shapes the way I see everything in my world, all the while knowing that most of the people around me don't have this lens and probably don't want it, either. Sometimes it feels like an exquisite gift -- as though I had the capacity to see a layer of beautiful magic which overlays all things, because I'm willing to open myself to this way of seeing and this way of being in the world.

Without mindfulness, Shabbat becomes plain old Friday night and Saturday. Without mindfulness, the new moon of Elul coming up at the end of next week is just a night when we'll be able to see a surprising number of stars. Without mindfulness, Yom Kippur doesn't atone -- it's just a long day, maybe one we're spending with grumbly stomachs saying strange words in a language we don't understand. I don't want it to be like that. Not for me, not for you who are reading this, not for anyone.

There's nothing wrong with plain old Friday night and Saturday. (And so on: plain old new moon, September days instead of the High Holidays...) But because I've tasted the transformation that's possible when consciousness of holy time enlivens those hours and makes them new, I want to make these holy times more than "just ordinary." I want to sip that nectar again, and to come away with my spirit renewed. Because I know that diving deep into Jewish sacred time sustains me like nothing else.

What our tradition is affirming is that when we reach the point of awareness, everything in time -- everything in the year, everything in our life -- conspires to help us. Everything becomes the instrument of our redemption.... The passage of time brings awareness, and the two together, time and consciousness, heal... This is precisely the journey we take every year during the High Holidays -- a journey of transformation and healing, a time which together with consciousness heals and transforms us.

Here's hoping. May it be so.

 

Elul begins in one week. Rosh Hashanah begins five weeks from Sunday.

Shabbat shalom to all who celebrate.


Texts to the Holy




Shechina is riding shotgun.
Her toenails are purple.

She's tapping at her smartphone
sending texts to the Holy.

What's it like, I ask her,
being apart? Do you wake up

melancholy and grateful
all at once, and fall asleep

thinking Shabbos can't come
soon enough, is always too short

you're always saying goodbye
and your own heart aches

to know he's hurting too?
And she looks at me

eyes kind as my grandmother
and timeless as the seas

and says, you tell Me, honey.
You tell Me.

 


 

The last time I saw Reb Zalman z"l, he spoke about conversing with God while driving. He would imagine Shechina, the immanent divine Presence, in his front seat -- and would pour out to God whatever was in his heart.

While driving recently I imagined the Shechina in my front seat... and this is the poem that ensued.

The original draft of this poem said that Shechina was writing "texts to the KBH." KBH is an acronym for the Hebrew phrase Kadosh Baruch Hu, which can be rendered in English as "Holy One of Blessing." Holy One of Blessing is a name associated with divine transcendence -- the part of God which is high-above and far-away. (Shechina, in contrast, is the part of God which dwells here in creation.) I've revised it, though, to be "texts to the Holy."

When we observe mitzvot with whole heart and intention -- says the mystical tradition -- we unify divine immanence and divine transcendence, for a time.

In my deepest yearnings, can I imagine what it's like for one part of God to ache for another part?

 

Edited to add: this is now the title poem of Texts to the Holy, Ben Yehuda Press, 2018.


Second edition of Days of Awe

RtoLHalfCoverLast year I released a pilot edition of Days of Awe, a machzor (high holiday prayerbook) for the yamim nora'im (days of awe.) It was used in three communities that I know of, one of which is the community I am blessed to serve.

The book had a team of proofreaders, and had gone through more than 30 printed revisions before I released it, but I knew that once it was used in realtime -- "pray-tested," as it were -- I would find things which needed to be updated.

Sure enough, I found things I wanted to fix. And I discovered a few places where I wanted to add material for the second edition. In January of 2015 I began revising. A native Hebrew speaker helped me better proofread the Hebrew.

I included a new aleinu variant, and a Shaker-inspired Ahavah Rabbah. (I learned both of these from Rabbi David Ingber of Romemu.) I replaced some art which hadn't printed well with new art which reproduces better.

I added more poetry. Some is my own (like the trio of new poems for the shofar service, inspired by teachings from Rabbi Daniel Siegel and from Reb Zalman z"l), some is by other writers. I added a second option for the Torah blessings, so that people now have the option of the classical wording or a more inclusive variation. Throughout, I kept the pagination the same as the pilot edition so it can be used alongside the pilot edition if needed.

I made about 50 changes, based on my own impressions of leading davenen with this volume, my student hazzan's impressions, and the feedback I received from those who used the pilot edition last year both inside and outside my own community. The second edition is now available: bound L to R (like an English book) at Amazon, and bound R to L (like a Hebrew book) at Lulu.

I'm happy to make the source files available if you want to print and bind your own copies (or use it on an e-reader)... with two stipulations: 1) Please don't sell the books anywhere at a profit, since the rabbis, artists, and poets who donated their work to this project did so on the understanding that no profit would be made from their work; and 2) If you use the machzor, either on your own or in community, please drop me a line after the holidays to tell me what worked for you and what didn't. 

The creation of new liturgy is iterative. I know that this second edition is as perfect as I can make it -- and I also know that by the end of this year's high holidays, I'll discover things I want to improve. For now, I'm deep in preparations for this year's holiday services, and I'm looking forward to using this second edition as I join with our student hazzan in leading prayer. For all that is meritorious in this machzor I thank my ALEPH teachers; any remaining imperfections in this machzor are my own.

 

Available at Amazon $7.53 L to R (paperback) | Available at Lulu $8.46 R to L (paperback)