The Amidah of the High Holy Days – Sovereignty and Forgiveness
By Rabbi Edwin Goldberg
The Amidah for the High Holy Days features thematic additions for the Days of Awe. One significant addition on Rosh Hashanah is “M’loch” – a prayer that celebrates the coronation of God as the Ultimate Ruler. On Yom Kippur, a similarly sounding prayer is added in its place, “M’chol,” – a request for forgiveness from God. The Rosh Hashanah addition reflects the fundamental theme of God as universal Creator and Ruler. The addition in Yom Kippur mirrors the basic theme of God’s forgiveness. In creating a new machzor for the Reform Movement the editorial committee has explored alternative themes, parallel to the notions of sovereignty and divine forgiveness.
For instance, in addition to the traditional M’loch the pilot copy of Rosh Hashanah morning includes a setting from the first chapter of Isaiah, including:
Hear the word of the Eternal,
you chieftains of Sodom;
give ear to God’s instruction,
you folk of Gomorrah!
“What need have I of all your sacrifices?”
“I am sated with the burnt offerings of rams,
and suet of fatlings,
and blood of bulls;
and I have no delight
in lambs and he-goats. . . .
They are become a burden to Me,
I cannot endure them.
And when you lift up your hands,
I will turn My eyes away from you;
though you pray at length,
I will not listen.
Your hands are stained with crime —
wash yourselves clean;
Put your evil doings
away from My sight.
Cease to do evil;
learn to do good.
Devote yourselves to justice;
defend the oppressed.
Uphold the rights of the orphan;
plead the cause of the widow.
As the note in the pilot copy points out, the Book of Isaiah emphasizes the imperative of creating an ethical society among the people Israel. Sacrificial offerings on the altar, says the prophet, are meaningless in the absence of moral behavior; interpersonal morality is the most direct form of service to God. Our Rosh HaShanah liturgy includes Isaiah’s teaching that justice is directly linked to God: “The Source of all might is exalted through justice, the God of holiness made holy through righteousness.” It is through our own moral behavior, then, that we may come closer to the Divine. In other words, it is only through our moral behavior that God’s sovereignty can be realized.
In Yom Kippur, opposite the prayer that requests from God forgiveness we offer a poem from the late poet Ruth Brin, entitled “Discovery”:
No one ever told me the coming of the Messiah
Could be an inward thing;
No one ever told me a change of heart
Might be as quiet as new-fallen snow.
No one ever told me that redemption
Was as simple as springtime and as wonderful
As birds returning after a long winter,
Rose-breasted grosbeaks singing in the swaying branches
Of a newly budded tree.
No one ever told me that salvation
Might be like a fresh spring wind
Blowing away the dried withered leaves of another year,
Carrying the scent of flowers, the promise of fruition.
What I found for myself I try to tell you:
Redemption and salvation are very near,
And the taste of them is in the world
That God created and laid before us.
Our intent in sharing this piece was to remind us of our responsibility when seeking forgiveness to uphold our responsibility in making ourselves better. Forgiveness is not passive. Even from God. It asks the best of us too.
Moving forward with the machzor, it is hoped that the alternative additions, complementary to the traditional texts, will expand our High Holy day experience. It is nice to know that, as worshipers of the Infinite God, there are countless ways to deepen our relationship to the machzor and to God.
Rabbi Edwin Goldberg has served as the senior rabbi of Temple Judea in Coral Gables since 1996. In July he will begin serving as the senior rabbi of Temple Sholom of Chicago. He is the coordinating editor of the forthcoming CCAR Machzor and is the author of five books. His newest book is, Saying No and Letting Go: Jewish Wisdom on Making Room for What Matters Most.