Mincha for the New Machzor: Good Habits Replacing Bad Habits
By Edwin Goldberg
The afternoon service – a tradition not usually observed in Reform Judaism – is an important part of Yom Kippur observance for Reform Jews. Not only does it help fill the time between the morning and break-the-fast; it also offers yet another opportunity for reflection and repentance. The editors of the upcoming machzor, Mishkan HaNefesh, also feel that the afternoon service presents an opportunity to focus our repentant selves on a plan for moving forward in our journey towards more ethical lives.
We conceive of the afternoon service (mincha in Hebrew) with a focus on the main body of prayers, theTefilah (or Amidah) and the ethical virtues (middot in Hebrew) suggested by them. For instance, the prayer known as Modim Ananchu Lach focuses on the subject of thanking God. Living with gratitude is more than a reflection of polite behavior; it also is a virtue that helps us attain a more mindful life. Therefore, in addition to the Hebrew and faithful translation of the prayer, we offer readings and study opportunities for congregants to ponder the challenge and blessing of living with an attitude of more gratitude.
Last year, in piloting the afternoon service at our congregation in Chicago, we invited the congregation of 600+ worshippers to spend five minutes in discussion with their neighbors (chevruta in Hebrew) on the topic of living with more gratitude. For a few minutes our House of Prayer was transformed into a House of Study. It was a great success.
Why devote mincha to middot reflection? It is all about the timing of our personal repentance. When in the course of boot camp for the military, the recruits are “broken down” so they can be built back up as soldiers. During the Days of Awe we spend a lot of time “breaking ourselves down” by reciting our list of transgressions and facing our shortcomings. The editors of Mishkan HaNefesh believe that it is appropriate to do the same for each worshipper on the afternoon of Yom Kippur. After all, one cannot break a bad habit (transgression) with no habit. We can only break a bad habit with a good habit, i.e., recognizing and practicing ethical Jewish values, such as living with more gratitude.
Yom Kippur afternoon is soon followed by the end of the day (although for the hungry never soon enough). We will return to our lives. We will be aware, it is hoped, of our need to work on ourselves. The afternoon service and its emphasis on middot are designed to give us a path towards more righteous living, before the gates begin to close.
Edwin Goldberg, D.H.L., is the senior rabbi of Temple Sholom of Chicago and serves as the coordinating editor of Mishkan HaNefesh.