Making a Mikdash Me’aht: Setting up Your Home for the High Holy Days
As much as we would like to gather together for the High Holy Days, hundreds of us packed shoulder to shoulder in our beautiful TBS Sanctuary, we know that that just isn’t possible this year. We will surely miss being in person togther, with the communal feeling of large crowds, standing close, singing in harmony all the familiar and meaningful melodies. Instead, our High Holy Day gatherings will be online, watched on screens.
But that doesn’t mean we must abandon any sense of sanctity. Judaism has long taught that the home can be a “mikdash me’aht,” a small sanctuary, a place of holiness in our abodes. The Chasidic master, Rabbi Nachman, is said to have encouraged his followers to designate a place for prayer, a room in the home, or even a corner of a room – some place that can be made to feel special and different.
So how do we create a sense of spiritual place in our living room or family room or wherever we gather? When so many of us spend hours each day on screens, how can we make the experience of the High Holy Days one that is filled with the feelings we seek at this time of year? How do we make a “mikdash me’aht” in our homes?
Here are some suggestions to use in seizing this opportunity to create a sacred space at home for the High Holy Days. They are meant to help you enhance the High Holy Day experience at home, while creating a communal atmosphere for us all.
Location and Setting
- Choose your prayer space carefully in advance by spending a few moments of individual contemplation/family discussion. Don’t wait for the last minute!
- Prepare your screen thoughtfully. If possible, move it out of your work space to a different location. It’s strongly recommended that you connect any portable devise to a large screen television for the best viewing experience. (See below for assistance in doing this.) Distance yourself from the screen so that you are “watching” the screen more than manipulating it, playing with the controls, or distracted by other content.
- Change the environment around the screen/television. Make it a contemplative space by covering the desk or table with a white tablecloth, white runner, or white placemat. Set flowers nearby, like the flowers that adorn the TBS bimah.
- Find meaningful objects to grace your space. On Rosh Hashanah include holiday objects like candlesticks and kiddish 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’s visible.
- So many have their “usual” seats in the Sanctuary. Create your own personal place by chosing where you will sit. Put a cushion or festive pillow on it, or drape it with a tallit, special piece of fabric, or scarf.
- Be sure to have a copy of our High Holy Day prayerbook, The Gates of Repentance. (They will be available for pickup at TBS on September 14 and 15.) Feel its familiar cover and pages and review its meaningful readings. The prayers will not be on the screen, so having a prayerbook at hand means you can participate more fully.
- Whether you are watching on a large screen television (recommended – see below for technological help) or a smaller device, turn off all other apps and programs. Silence all notifications, messages, emails, texts, or other distractions. Set an “away message” for your communications. Enable yourself to be fully present during the service.
- When we are on Zoom (Erev Rosh Hashanah, Family Services, educational offerings), please be sure that everyone watching on that device is named in your box. Consider using a photo as a placeholder instead of just your name if you turn off your video. That way, we’ll still see you.
- When we are on Zoom, consider using one of the TBS viritual backgrounds that can be downloaded from the TBS website or our High Holy Day email messages.
Your Outer Self
- Wear clothing that makes you feel as if you are entering a spiritual space. Dress up as if we were gathering together in person in the Sanctuary. These High Holy Days are different than ordinary days. Our clothes should be, too.
- The clergy will be wearing white robes for the High Holy Days, representing the desire to start pure and clean. Maybe choose to wear something that is white.
- Kippot and tallitot are welcome if they help you express a connection to this special worship.
Your Inner Self
- Take time during Elul, the month before the High Holy Days, to prepare. Evaluate your actions this past year. What are you proud of? What do you regret? Whom have you hurt, whether intentionally or accidentally? Have you attempted to make amends? Work on your teshuvah, turning away from the “wrong” path and returning back to your best self.
Once you have prepared your space (and yourself), you may chose to say a blessing or a kavannah (“intention”) over it to consecrate it as your mikdash me’aht. Here are some suggestions: [NEED TO FIX THE HEBREW and add Transliteration]
A. 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.
B. 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.
C. Exodus 25:8
V’asu li Mikdash v’shochanti b’tocham
Let them make for Me a Sanctuary that I may dwell among them.
D. The last line of the blessing said at Havdalah, separating Shabbat from the 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.
These are just a few suggestions for preparing your home and yourself for the High Holy Days. Do what you can, and do what is right for you, to create the physical and spiritual space that will lend a sense of sanctity to our gatherings. Whatever you are able to do, or choose to do, will be right. No one is judging you on your mikdash me’aht! Whether we are on Zoom or streaming, you and your space are collectively part of our greater TBS sanctuary, spread out digitally but soulfully-connected.
L’shanah tovah u’metukah, may it be a good and sweet new year,
Rabbi David S. Widzer
Many of us will be participating in our High Holy Day services from home on devices like iPhones, iPads, Androids, and laptops. We recommend that you connect your device to your large screen TV for the best experience. Here’s how to do it:
Get an adapter that connects your device to HDMI. These are readily available on Amazon for about $20 or less. This is the most surefire, cheapest, lo-tech way to get the job done. Just Google “(type of your device) adapter TV.”
Use a device like an Apple TV, a Chromecast, or an Amazon Fire to connect wirelessly. Chromecast and Amazon Fire cost between $30 and $50. Apple TV is more expensive, about $150.
Your smart TV might be able to connect to an Android device wirelessly out of the box. Check your manual or Google to see if that’s the case.
Much of this material originally written and compiled by Rabbi Elyse Goldstein. Technology advice courtesy of Rabbi Eli Garfinkle. Thanks to them for sharing their idea