Awakening to the Days of Awe: Issue 2
Welcome to the second issue of 'Gateways to the Days of Awe.'  In this issue we will explore the 'Avinu Malkeinu' - probably one of the most recognized pieces of liturgy from the Days of Awe.  Read below for my full discussion on this important liturgical cornerstone.
Our Father, Our King?

Avinu Malkeinu - Our Father, Our King, is truly one of the most recognizable of all the Days of Awe liturgy (I am consciously avoiding the term 'High Holidays' as it is not a faithful rendition of the phrase, 'Yamim Norai'im').  It has been a staple poem for more than 1900 years.

The first mention of the prayer is found in the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Ta'anit 25b (that means it is on the obverse page of page 25 in the standard pagination of the Vilna edition of the Talmud, the pagination universally recognized as the standard).  According to the Talmud, the poem traces its roots to the Second Century C.E. (Common Era).  It is an appeal to God's mercy.

In the Talmud, the passage says, "Rabbi Eliezar once stood before the Ark [during a drought and famine] and recited the twenty-four benedictions for fast days but his prayer was not answered.  Rabbi Akiva stood there after him and proclaimed, "Avinu Malkeinu, our Father, our King, we have no King but You; our Father, our King, have mercy upon us" - and rain began to fall.'

Every Days of Awe prayerbook since then has included this poem.  And while the text slightly changes from service to service, there is a running theme of our culpability to sin and our communal responsibility. 

In the Gates of Awe, the machzor that we have been using up to now, the Erev Rosh Hashanna Avinu Malkeinu had been translated exactly as the Hebrew was presented.  'Our Father, Our King, hear our voice.  Our Father, Our King, we have sinned before You.  Our Father, Our King, have compassion upon us and our children, etc.' 

In the Mishkan HaNefesh (the new Days of Awe prayerbook) the Hebrew is the same but the English is very different.

As an introduction to the prayer, there is a meditative ready.  In the older machzor, the paragraph spoke of 'emptiness in those who cast You out!' and how 'Strange that men and women grow smaller without You...' It is an paragraph designed to elicit guilt.  This makes sense, since the Days of Awe are about guilt and sin.  But the new machzor tackled this prayer with a different approach.  Instead of guilt and sin and emptiness, the new paragraph speaks about awe and God's presence.  Here are two different readings that can introduce the prayer: its words:

Reading One
Loving Father
    Infinite Power
Gentle, forgiving
    Lofty, inscrutable
Compassionate Mother
    Omnipotent Lord
Comforting presence
    Fathomless mystery
Our Rock and Redeemer
    Life of the Universe
Close to us always
    Impossibly far
Accepting our frailty
    Decreeing our end
None of these are true
None of them are You
Yet we stand as those before us have stood
Summoned to judgement, longing for love
Avinu Malkeinu
May these words be a bridge
They come from our hearts
May they lead us to You.

Reading Two

Avinu Malkeinu -
We stand in awe; we draw close in love
Avinu Malkeinu -
The Power that passes through us and pervades all things
Avinu Malkeinu -
The Divine the is present within and among us.

As you can see, the first reading places God within a set of characteristics.  But it brings up the problem, how is it possible to define the impossible?  Yet, even though words are impossible, words are all we have and like a hundred generations before us, we stand and pour out our hearts.  Powerful stuff.

The second reading is a complete opposite to the reading in Gates of Awe.  There is no sense of unworthiness and being a failure.  It is a plea to let the words enter our hearts and, by doing so, allows us to be filled with the love of God, not simply the fear of God. 

This fundamental shift in looking at the liturgy in a profoundly different way will, we hope, deepen the meaning and the connection for you, the worshipper.  In doing so, the deeper dimension of real prayer can happen in ways that were not evident in the past.  Those 'set up' words and the words of the new translation will make this prayer - a prayer profoundly important - spring forth in our souls and give us a more meaningful avenue to listen to the Voice of God. 
Mishkan HaNefesh

Interested in purchasing the new machzor?

Throughout the year there will be a table in the foyer where you can buy any number of sets of the new High Holiday machzor for $50/set and help the temple reach its goal of 400 sets.  You will be able to dedicate them as you wish.  You can download the order/dedication form from this link. In addition Rabbi Stanway will also be teaching about the book in 5 different and distinct lessons.  Check out this page for details.  If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact the temple at 732-222-3754.
Calendar of Mishkan HaNefesh classes

In a very exciting program, Beth Miriam is going to be introducing Mishkan HaNefesh, our new High Holiday prayerbook on Rosh Hashanna 2017.  This remarkable machzor (High Holiday prayerbook) is unlike anything you have ever used.  It is filled with original readings, art, new Torah readings, unique services as well as the customary reading you are familiar with.  The music will include the familiar tunes but also some new melodies to match the new prayers.

This prayerbook needs an introduction.  Rabbi Stanway will be teaching an introduction to this machzor (High Holiday prayerbook) throughout the year after the High Holidays 2016.  The dates are:
January 29 - 9:30 am
February 12 - 9:30 am
March 19 - 9:30 am
April 30 - 9:30 am
May 14 - 9:30 am
Barbra Streisand's astonishing Avinu Malkeinu

Temple Beth Miriam
180 Lincoln Ave
Elberon, NJ 07740