When I left for college my freshman year, I was nervous about exploring a new Jewish community. However, I immediately felt at home as I walked into my university’s Hillel’s Conservative Friday night services and saw the Siddur Sim Shalom, the prayer book I had grown up with.
In the game “Truth-or-Dare,” I choose “truth” nearly every time. I’m not much of a dare-taker. Thus, if you and I were playing “Special Edition Truth-or-Dare: High Holy Days,” I would confess that the prayer Avinu Malkeinu provides me with both my second-favorite liturgical moment and my second-greatest pet peeve of the year’s liturgy. (Note: Even though I may have to repent for it, I will leave you in suspense about my favorite liturgical moment and my greatest liturgical pet peeve. Also, “Special Edition Truth-or-Dare: High Holy Days” is fictional, although I hereby declare copyright in the event Mattel or Hasbro comes knocking at my door.)
Tekiah! Teruah! Shevarim! Tekiah Gedolah!
In the traditional liturgy, the special character of each holiday is particularly conveyed by the piyyutim (hymns, liturgical poems) that are recited or chanted on that day. Most of these piyyutim have been omitted in Reform liturgies since the nineteenth century, out of a sense that their Hebrew diction is too arcane and their theology too medieval. Yet, some of these poems have routinely been retained in Reform High Holy Day prayer books, particularly for Yom Kippur.
Acharei Mot, the first of this week's two parashiyot, begins on an unsettling note—a reminder of the death of Aaron's sons and the suggestion that such tragedies might occur again unless the priests take specified steps to prevent them
In this week's double parashah, Acharei Mot/K'doshim, there's a one-sentence reference to the mortal sin of Aaron's sons, Nadab and Abihu, who brought "alien fire" into the Mishkan, which we read about in Parashat Sh'mini two weeks ago (see Leviticus 10:1-7).
As the great flood story begins, we learn that Noah was "a righteous man; in his generation he was above reproach" (Genesis 6:9) and we wonder what kind of compliment has Noah just been paid.