With the Covid pandemic and restrictions on group gatherings, our kitchens have become our classrooms, our basements our yoga studios, and the dining room has become our office. Where then, is our synagogue? The rabbis asked this same question right after the destruction of the Temple. Without a localized place of worship, how could we pray together? We are the inheritors of their answer: Our home would become our “mikdash m’at,” a miniature sanctuary, a holy place. Our current challenge is to create a sacred space at home while we are in front of our computers, on Zoom or live-streaming Shul services. What can help us create both that spiritual mindset and sacred refuge?
We will not able to gather in our Shul building for the High Holy Days. We will all certainly miss being together in person with the majesty of large crowds standing close, singing all our familiar and moving tunes in harmony. But we will be “together” safely in our own homes. This year, we have a unique opportunity to create a sacred space in our home, a mikdash m’at for the High Holidays and beyond. These ten suggestions collected by Rabbi Elyse Goldstein (Toronto CN) are meant to help you enhance the High Holy Day experience at home, while creating a communal atmosphere for us all.
1. Choose your prayer space carefully in advance by spending a few moments of individual contemplation/family discussion. Do not wait for the last minute!
2. Once you have chosen your space, say a blessing or kavannah (“intention”) over it to mark it as your mikdash m’at. Suggestions of verses and blessings are given below.
3. What chair will you sit on? Put a cushion or festive pillow on it, or drape it with a tallit, special piece of fabric, or scarf.
4. Change where you put your computer from a workspace to a contemplative space by covering the desk or table with a white tablecloth, white runner, or white placemat, and a vase of flowers.
5. Find meaningful objects to grace your space. On Rosh Hashana include holiday objects like candlesticks and kiddush cup, apples and honey. On Yom Kippur you can place cherished mementoes, family heirlooms, and photos of loved ones to surround you. If you own a shofar, put it where it is visible.
6. If possible, move the computer space back so that you are “watching” the screen more than “manipulating” it. Consider connecting your computer to a TV screen so it feels less like a work device.
7. Try to limit or disconnect auditory distractions. You can turn off your email and text message ping sounds, and/or close your email programme and other apps so you can be fully present during the service.
8. Wear clothing that makes you feel as if you are entering a spiritual space. Kippah and tallit are welcome if they help you express a connection to this special worship.
9. Be sure you have your machzor with you, just like on past High Holidays when we gathered. As you feel its cover and edges and flip its pages, remember the times you’ve used it before, who you sat near, what moved you in the service, the first time you used it, etc. If you buy a new one, inscribe it with a meaningful phrase for this year. We will use Mishkan HaNefesh as we did for the past two years. The prayers will not be on the screen, so having a machzor means you can participate more fully. If you do not own a copy, you can buy one now in time to be delivered to your home. Contact Glynnis at email@example.com to purchase your machzor.
10. Make it a habit to join the online services we already offer now. Praying as any other activity becomes more comfortable and “natural” when we practise it. Now, that we all need to adjust ourselves to the new form of services, we also need to find a new way to personally feel comfortable with praying at home. The more services you attend before the High Holy Days, the more you will be able to enjoy them and to find the right kavanah, mental and spiritual setting.
We all appreciate the time and effort it takes to make your mikdash m’at a reality. Think of it as a “work in progress!” May it add joy and meaning to your holiday I wish you a very warm and personal Shana Tova.
Rabbi Adrian M Schell
Verses and blessings to help create your sacred space/mikdash m’at:
- Numbers 24:5
מַה־טֹּ֥בוּ אֹהָלֶ֖יךָ יַעֲקֹ֑ב מִשְׁכְּנֹתֶ֖יךָ יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃
How good are your tents, O Jacob, Your sacred places, O Israel!
2. Birkat Habayit (home blessing):
בְּזֶה הַשַּׁעַר לֹא יָבוֹא צַעַר
בְּזֹאת הַדִּירָה לֹא תָבוֹא צָרָה
בְּזֹאת הַדֶּלֶת לֺא תָבוֹא בֶּהָלָה
בְּזֹאת הַמַּחְלָקָה לֺא תָבוֹא מַחְלוֺקֶת.
בְּזֶה הַמָּקוֺם תְּהִי בְרָכָה וְשָׁלוֺם
Let no sorrow come through this gate.
Let no trouble come in this dwelling.
Let no fright come through this door.
Let no conflict come to this section.
Let there be blessing and peace in this place.
3. Exodus 20:21:
בְּכָל־הַמָּקוֹם֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר אַזְכִּ֣יר אֶת־שְׁמִ֔י אָב֥וֹא אֵלֶ֖יךָ וּבֵרַכְתִּֽיךָ
In every place where My name is mentioned, I will come to you and bless you.
4. Exodus 3:5
כִּ֣י הַמָּק֗וֹם אֲשֶׁ֤ר אַתָּה֙ עוֹמֵ֣ד עָלָ֔יו אַדְמַת־קֹ֖דֶשׁ הֽוּא׃
Indeed, the place on which you stand is holy ground.
5. Psalms 121:8
יְֽהוָ֗ה יִשְׁמָר־צֵאתְךָ֥ וּבוֹאֶ֑ךָ מֵֽ֝עַתָּ֗ה וְעַד־עוֹלָֽם׃
Adonai will guard your going and coming, now and forever.
6. Pirke Avot 1:4
יְהִי בֵיתְךָ בֵית וַעַד לַחֲכָמִים, וֶהֱוֵי מִתְאַבֵּק בַּעֲפַר רַגְלֵיהֶם, וֶהֱוֵי שׁוֹתֶה בְצָמָא אֶת דִּבְרֵיהֶם:
Let thy house be a house of meeting for the wise, sit at their feet, and drink in their words.
7. The last line of the blessing said at havdala separating Shabbat from weekday can be used to “separate” this sacred space:
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’, הַמַבְדִּיל בֵּין קֹדֶשׁ לְחוֹל
Baruch atah Adonai, hamavdil bayn kodesh lechol.
Blessed are You Adonai, who separates between holy and ordinary.
8. The traditional prayer for healing can be used to “heal” a space too:
ברוך אתה ה’, רופא כל בשר, ומפליא לעשות
Baruch atah Adonai, rofeh kol basar, u’maflee la’asot.
Praised are You Adonai, healer of all flesh, doing wonders.
Thank you to Rabbi Elyse Goldstein (Toronto CN) for writing this wonderful guide