Jewish Journal


September 15, 2009

Kavvanot (Points to Consider) For A More Meaningful Rosh Hashana Prayer – Rabbi Barry Gelman


For the benefit of morethodoxy readers I am publishing a Kavvanah guide that I will use in my shul this Rosh Hashana. So many are drustrated when the High Holiday prayers are not inspiring. This Kavvanah guide is meant ot help people find inspiration in the High Holiday prayers.

I pray that it is helpful to you.

Shannah Tova,

Barry Gelman

Kavvanot (Points to Consider) For A More Meaningful Rosh Hashana Prayer

The Rosh Hashana davening is challenging in that it is very busy and full of choreography. Some find it difficult to focus and create moments of quiet introspection.

Do not feel rushed to keep up. It is more important to internalize the prayers. One should stop and listen to the shofar when the time comes.

Each section of the Mussaf Amidah focuses on one or two major themes. One of the keys to a meaningful prayer is to spend time focusing on those themes and how they impact our life.

Use this guide during the silent Mussaf Amidah or the repetition of the Mussaf Amidah to help you focus on the prayer themes.  Each section of Mussaf will be briefly described followed by some questions to help us focus on each theme. Each section will end with a quote related to the main theme of that section.

Instead of talking to your neighbor when the service starts to feel too heavy, use this sheet to redirect your thoughts.

Malchiyot – Kingship

This section of the Mussaf service focus on God’s sovereignty of all of humanity. During the recitation of Aleynu it is customary to bow and partially prostrate ourselves as a sign of humility and submission to God.

Ask Yourself

What are some of the barriers to humility and how can I overcome them?

How do I relate to the notion of God as King and submitting to the will of the King?

Aleynu represents humanity’s voluntary acceptance of God’s sovereignty and ability to carry out His will. What does this Divine confidence say about humanity and how can it impact your relationship with God?

“When my eyes focus on my forebears as they stooped in total submissiveness when they confessed their sins before the Almighty, then my absurd pride is shattered…In a moment I return to the dawn of my existence and find myself standing next to my father in the midst of a congregation of Habad Hasidim engrossed in their prayers on the first night of Rosh Hashana. I can feel the unique atmosphere which enveloped these Hasidim as they recited the prayers by which they proclaimed Him their King. Te older Hasidim termed this night the “Coronation Night” as they crowned Him as their King. These poor and downtrodden Jews, who suffered so much durnig their daily existence, were able to experience the enthroning of the Almighty and the true meaning of Kingship prayers of the Rosh Hashana liturgy. (Rabbi Joseph B. Solovetichik as recorded in: The Rav: the world of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Volume 2 By Aaron Rakeffet-Rothkof, pg. 171)

Zichronot – Remembrances

This section of the Mussaf service focuses on Divine Providence, the notion that God cares about the actions of individuals and God’s memory of the merit of the Jews.

Ask Yourself

How does the idea that God cares about what I do impact my moral and religious choices?
The liturgy mentions that God remembers Noah’s righteousness: What does this teach us about our relationship with all of humanity?

We ask God to remember only the good stuff: How can we mirror this request of God in our relationships with others?

“The foundation of religion is not the affirmation that God is, but that God is concerned with man and the world; that having created this world, He has not abandoned it, leaving it to its own devices; that He cares about His creation. It is of the essence of biblical religion that God is sufficiently concerned about man to address him; and that God values man enough to render Himself approachable by him.” (Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits, God, Man and History pg. 13)

Shofarot – Sounding of the Shofar

This section of the Mussaf service focuses on the past revelation at Sinai, the anticipated revelation of the Messiah and the revelation of God’s presence in our lives.

Ask Yourself

What is my current connection to the revelation at Sinai? Can I develop a stronger relationship to the Torah of that revelation?
How can I cultivate a relationship with God so I can can feel his presence in my life?
How can torah study, prayer, moving emotional experiences and mitzvoth serve me in developing a relationship with God?

“Let Us take a loaf of bread. It is the product of climate, soil and the work of the farmer, merchant and baker. It it were our intention to extol the forces that concurred in producing a loaf of bread, we should have to give praise to the sun and the rain, to the soil and to the intelligence of man. However, it is not these we praise before breaking bread. We say, “Blessed be thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the earth,” Empirically speaking, would it not be more correct to give credit to the farmer, the merchant and the baker?…

We bless Him who makes possible both nature and civilization. It is not important to dwell each time on what bread is empirically…It is important to dwell each time on what bread is ultimately.” (Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, God In Search Of Man)

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