My community has the custom of breaking up the prayers of the days of awe with short, meditative reflections offered by members on parts of the prayers. Here is a transcription from my offering, inspired by -who else- Leonard Cohen who is still singing his broken psalms to soothe, to bother and provoke, and to open doors for the mind and heart.
There is a long running debate throughout the writings of חז׳ל as to the who is greater- the angels or humankind?
In the end, in their usual counterintuitive way, the Rabbis show how people, with their limitations and passions and messiness, are superior to Angels in their static purity and spiritual rigidity.
Yom Kippur is a day which has it both ways, we are like Angels- not eating or drinking or making love like humans do-- seemingly nodding to the superiority of the heavenly creatures. We shout out the line spoken by the Angels-
Baruch Shem Kevod Malchuto Leolam Vaed—
Instead of our usual, mortally inflected whisper
We spend our day like the angels, praising and basking in the divine presence.
And yet, we know that we are not angels, we are only playing like angels. Our white shawls and kittels are a thin costume barely hiding the hard truth that yom kippur only gives us a taste of the angelic, the pure, of what living life unencumbered by passions and limitations feels like. In the incessant rounds of confession, declarations of being purified in the divine waters of the God’s mikveh, of calling out the secret identity of God’s true self, that which was revealed to Moshe Rabeinu from behind the cleft of the rock on Mt. Sinai after the depth of the Children of Israel’s depravity-
Hashem, Hashem, Compassionate Lord, a God who is long in patience, of great Kindness and Truth, who stores up kindness for millennia, who lifts up sins and evil and errors and purifies
With each passing declaration its like we rise up for air, gasping the sweet oxygen only to remember that it’s a moment of truth, of wisdom, of insight that allows us to see our lives anew, as people committed to growth, to change, to pushing ourselves and becoming who we know we can be.
And yet we also know that after the final triumphant shofar blast tonight when we begin Ma’ariv we will all declare that we are happy to be praying to a God who is compassionate and atones for sins
The cycle will begin again and we will fall again into our negative patterns, slip into our small mindedness and worse
And yet and yet: today we were higher than the angels.
I thought about this when reading Leonard Cohen’s עה׳ש poem #43 from his Songs of Mercy. (this is a precious collection of 50 modern psalms/prose poems that Leonard wrote, I believe around the time he was deep into his practice of Zen Buddhism. I read through it most years during Ellul)
I believe this can function as a modern reshut, or introduction to the kedusha like the ones composed by the great Paytanim of old to open up the prayers for their listeners.
HOLY IS YOUR NAME, HOLY is your work, holy are the days that return to you. Holy are the years that you uncover. Holy are the hands that are raised to you, and the weeping that is wept to you. Holy is the fire between your will and ours, in which we are refined. Holy is that which is unredeemed, covered with your patience. Holy are the souls lost in your unnaming. Holy, and shining with a great light, is every living thing, established in this world and covered with time, until your name is praised forever.
The one line I wish to consider is:
Holy is that which is unredeemed, covered with your patience.
We are not angels- we carry with us much which is unredeemed and thanks to God’s patience- erech apayim- those parts are still with us, they are part of us. Even with all that unredeemed “stuff” we continue to grow and unfold under His wisdom, with the life energy of the world pulsing through us, giving us breath every moment- Gods patience.
We need God’s patience and we need to share it with each other, we need to share it next time anyone- but especially those close to us- bother us, hurt us, confuse us- to have patience with them, to tap into God’s patience and see them as unredeemed but part of the divine universe, just like us