The 3rd, 4th, and 5th years reassure us that our 2nd year HHD pulpits are the hardest, as we've probably never led HHD's before and we feel the need to cram as much music in the services as possible. They remind us not to go too crazy, that singing some Shabbat nusach is OK and probably appreciated, and to keep it as simple as possible this year. They remind us to, musically speaking, to use what we've got, not to be too ambitious with what we don't yet have, and allow the rabbi and congregation to read certain prayers we've always heard sung. In other words, they're telling us to relax, and as one of my 5th year colleagues told me, to "chill the f**k out." (Did you think clergy never use bad words? Think again...) It's GOOD advice, advice I'm finally beginning to feel OK with even though I am going to keep working until the end.
The Jewish people are currently in the Hebrew month of Elul, the Hebrew month that precedes Rosh Hashana, the start of the new year. It's a time of reflection, of repentence, of finding God in both comfortable and UNcomfortable ways. It's helpful for all of us second years to remember what Elul is all about, why we're here, how we got here, and what we REALLY want to accomplish during the HHD's. When we think about things in this way, we realize that singing the perfect B'rosh Hashana isn't the most important thing, and that our congregants probably won't remember whether we sung the right nusach for whatever prayer we're singing. They will, however, remember the moments of services that touched them, that helped them to find God, that helped them to reflect and repent and remember what the HHD's are all about.
I've been spending just a little time every day this week with Naomi Levy's book Talking to God. If you've never read it, I highly encourage you to do so; it's a book of prayers for small moments, both joyful and rough. It's not a HHD themed book, but there are a few of her prayers that have jumped out at me that relate to where I am right now, in the midst of all of these preparations. They remind me to do the best I can and to trust that God will help all of us through this rough patch.
"Dear God, as I pray, day after unpredictable day,May your month of Elul bring you to a closer relationship with God, and may your new year be a year of peace and happiness.
May the voice of my soul spring forth from my lips.
May I turn to You, God, in tears, in laughter, and in song.And may my prayers be answered. Amen."
"When I panic, God, teach me patience.
When I fear, teach me faith.
When I doubt myself, teach me confidence.
When I despair, teach me hope.
When I lose perspective, show me the way--
back to love, back to life, back to You. Amen."
"You have blessed me with many gift, God, but I know it is my task to realize them. May I never underestimate my potential; may I never lose hope. May I find the strength to strive for better, the courage to be different, the energy to give all that I have to offer.
Help me, God, to live up to all the goodness that resides within me. Fill me with the humility to learn from others and with the confidence to trust in my instincts.
Thank You, God, for the power to grow. Amen."