Mishkan ha Nefesh: A dwelling place for our souls


This is not the first time, I have mentioned it, but I think it is still exciting news. Together with our sister congregations in South Africa we will embark on a new spiritual journey, introducing a new prayer book for the High Holy Days: Mishkan HaNefesh. The new Machzor will be a valuable tool for innovation in our Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur experiences. The language in the books is modern and accessible, with gender neutral wording and all Hebrew prayers available in transliteration.  There are inspired alternative options, a variety of study commentaries throughout the book, Torah reading options, and some magnificent new prayer alternatives. We are going to use the new Machzorim for the first time on Rosh HaShanah 2018.

Why do we need a new machzor? Why should we switch to Mishkan HaNefesh?

Our current Machzor, Gates of Repentance, has served Bet David well for many years. When it was first published in 1978, it represented exciting and progressive liturgical innovation. However, time has changed and we have changed. The fact that it does not include transliteration is a stumbling block for many in our communities. So too, many of today’s Jews feel disconnected from prayer and from theological and ideological concepts that do not seem consistent with a contemporary sensibility. Like Mishkan Tfilah, our Shabbat prayer book, Mishkan HaNefesh makes strides towards a multi-vocality that creates a space for all to inhabit, offering a multiplicity of different approaches. Through updated translations, elucidating essays, rich commentary, and a beautiful selection of poetry, Mishkan HaNefesh provides an environment for those of all backgrounds to find meaning in the High Holy Days.

Mishkan HaNefesh gives both the prayer leader and the community a wealth of resources for finding new and old meaning for the High Holy Days and to match the requirements for today‘s services. Mishkan HaNefesh breathes new life into High Holy Day services and forms a meaningful bridge to our Shabbat liturgy we love at Bet David.

How do you get your copy?

The new two volume Machzor can be bought from the offices from March 2018 on, but we are happy to offer you a pre-order option to save your copies already now, with a early bird discount. The regular set (one set includes the Machzorim for RoshHaShanah and Yom Kippur) price is R700. If you order your set(s) before 31 December and pay it by the end of 2017, we can offer you a special pre-order price of R600 per set. The other option we can offer you is to order now and pay them off in several installments for the regular price. Please use the order form (Mishkan HaNefesh Information Letter).

With your support, we will be able to make this important change in the worship life of our congregation. If you have questions regarding the new Machzor, please don‘t hesitate to contact me or any members of the ManCom.

 Rabbi Adrian M Schell


Approaching the High Holy Days: The one key, you like to start with.

Do you have also a bunch of unmarked keys at home which you know that the each key must fit somewhere? Perhaps to an old box or door, perhaps to a lock, to your car, a gate, a diary, a neighbour’s house, or to a cupboard. You haven’t had the time to check every key and to mark them, but you know that they are too important to just ignore or even  throw over board.

Elul, the current Jewish month, is the month where we traditional occupy ourselves with a spiritual introspection. We are looking for our shortcomings, where we missed the bar we set for ourselves, and where we transgressed the boundaries our Jewish tradition has drawn up for us. We are doing so, in order to make T’shuva; the going back to the point where we erred and to use this new gained knowledge to follow the right direction in the future.

Part of this process, and perhaps the most painful one, is to acknowledge that we have been wrong, to admit our failures – not to others, but to ourselves. To open the door to our soul and to make reality test whether our actions, thoughts and deeds of the past, are really what we hope them to be—or if we have created a myth around them— is not easy and not always pleasant. We all know that…and if we do find the courage to start the process, we are often faced with another question: how? Where do we start? And, how can this become a meaningful journey for us?

Our Jewish liturgy is like the bunch of keys I mentioned in the beginning. Many of the prayers, poems and wisdoms we encounter in our prayer books are keys to our inner selves. The right word hopefully triggers something in us that helps us to understand what we have done and how we perhaps could have done it differently. Once discovered, we can use them again and again to monitor our lives and actions.

Yes, some of the prayers we read are heavy, especially during the High Holy Days. Some seem to be outdated and more than once we are willing to throw them over board. But, please wait before you do so! As much as not every key opens the first door we approach, so too every prayer doesn’t reveal  its value immediately. Sometimes, we need to be already on the journey, as some doors already need to be open, and others locked again. In other words, T’shuva does not happen over night, and even the whole month of Elul plus the 10 days of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur might be not enough. But, we can start, we can find one prayer, one moment, one word that will lead us in a new direction, at this time. And in a next step, we continue from there.

I am sure that honest, small steps are much more meaningful than a spiritual sprint. And so, I invite you to open your siddur, your high holy day machzor, and to find the one prayer, the one key, you like to start with.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Adrian M Schell