Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A Liturgical and Spiritual Shift

The calendar has turned from the month of Av to the month of Elul. For the past several weeks, the haftara (weekly prophetic reading) has been related to the calendar instead of thematically tied to the parasha (weekly Torah reading). This is a ten week cycle, that this year began on July 3rd.

The first three haftarot of admonition conclude on the Shabbat that precedes the tragic day of Tisha b'Av (9th of Av). We are foretold about the coming destruction of the Temple. True to prophesy, the Temple is destroyed and all of its holy vessels are hauled off to Babylonia. Later, this also becomes a foretelling of the second destruction. The seven haftarot that follow Tisha b'Av, those of consolation, are elevating in nature. They encourage return and repentance. In other words, from the depths of destruction, to the heights of redemption. Similarly, at the end of the seven weeks of consolation, and the ten week cycle overall, lies the day of judgment, Rosh Hashana.

During the reading of the seven haftarot of consolation, comes the new month of Elul. Two new elements are added to daily prayers. In the morning(except on Shabbat) the shofar (ram's horn) is sounded at the conclusion of davening, arousing souls to ascend to the heights, and out of the depths from which they come. Preceding the shofar sounding is the recitation of Psalm 27. You can find the text and translation here. I will save my thoughts on the psalm until later in the month.

Just as the haftarot have shifted and the liturgy itself begins to change, I would encourage you to begin your personal introspection, culminating in spiritual elevation. I believe that when used appropriately, the month preceding the Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur can elevate the t'fillot and the experience of standing before the aron kodesh (holy ark) on those days.

The blog will also be undergoing a bit of a transformation. I hope to take advantage of the gold mine of liturgical material available, touch on some of the themes of the High Holiday liturgy, as well as discuss difficult or challenging sections. Let the tussling happen here.

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