This summer, i witnessed the bringing together of long separated art and spirit to restore a whole heart, םלש בל (lev shalem). I thought of the different paths our personal yearning for wholeness and healing may take: in the beauty of sea, sky and snow; the solitude of meditation; the activity of family celebration; exquisite moments of song and prayer.
Just before the Fast of Av, Josette and I saw two paintings by the young Rembrandt van Rijn (1606–1669): “St. Peter in Prison” (1631) from the collection of the Israel Museum was side by side with “The Prophet Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem” (1630), on loan from the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. Prophet and apostle, each aged and bearded, were strikingly similar, sharing a mix of light and darkness, a mood of sorrow and desolation. Apart for centuries, now adjacent to each other, the images portray full-hearted aesthetic beauty, religious pathos and personal anguish.
We also saw two volumes of a rare illuminated manuscript of the Mishneh Torah by Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (1138–1204) that were written and illustrated in Northern Italy around 1457. Separated 200 years ago, the first volume was on loan from the Vatican Library and the second is jointly owned by the Israel Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I continue to study and glean wisdom from Mishneh Torah, the most renowned legal work of Rambam, although my printed copy lacks the lavish illumination of this elegant one-of-a-kind book. Men and women in Renaissance attire appear within a flowering landscape against a cerulean sky. We live at a time of religious division, so it was reassuring to learn that a Christian artist, who worked in the highest circles of patronage in Italy, could bring his creative gifts with a complete heart to another religious tradition.
Online, I noticed that the 13th century Esslingen Mahzor also has been reunited. A mahzor (רוזחמ, plural mahzorim) is a specialized form of the prayer book used primarily on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The word mahzor means cycle (the root ר-ז-ח means to return) and it includes the yom tov prayers recited for the annually recurring holy days. The Esslingen Mahzor, completed by Kalonymos ben Judah in 1290, is the earliest recorded Hebrew manuscript written in Germany. Separated at an unknown date, one part was held by the University of Amsterdam and the first half was identified at the Jewish Theological Seminary. Once again a whole heart, the mahzor has been brought together at esslingenmahzor.org.
Rabbi Elliot Kukla, in “Wholeness of a Broken Heart,” writes of serving as a chaplain to a woman named Maggie in the last weeks of her life. Maggie was constantly surrounded by three childhood friends. When asked what had kept them together, one sighed, “we are so close now because she broke our hearts many years ago.” After a childhood pregnancy and miscarriage, Maggie was unable to share her grief. Despite her withdrawal, they refused to let her go and eventually, Maggie shared her story and they rebuilt a friendship, one that would last a lifetime. I was reminded of the film “Steel Magnolias,” released 25 years ago, describing how six brassy Southern women related to each other as they faced a tragedy.
“There is nothing as whole as a broken heart,” taught the Kotsker Rebbe. Healing the brokenness of a relationship brought friends together. Restoring the manuscripts and pairing the paintings created a wholeness with added significance because of the break of centuries. The healing of past pain is part of the process of teshuvah, restoring wholeness, moving closer to one another, aspiring to bring added authenticity to our daily values.
That is part of the theological background to an exciting new development at Beth Tzedec. This year, as we mark our 60th anniversary, we introduce Mahzor Lev Shalem, an updated prayer book for the High Holy Days.
Lev Shalem means a full and complete heart. We hope that this new ma˙hzor will help you to open your heart and soul to a deeper examination of your spiritual yearnings. A 20-something, after using this new prayer book, told his rabbi, “The mahzor used to belong to my grandfather, now it belongs to me.” Diane Cole, whose memoir After Great Pain: A New Life Emerges has been the subject of one of my holiday sermons, wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “Comprehensive and informative, traditional and contemporary, this full-hearted prayer book speaks eloquently to the mind and soul.”
The prayer selection of Mahzor Lev Shalem is traditional with additions from a variety of classical and contemporary sources. Among its innovations are poems from contemporary Hebrew and English language poets, the “Prayers of Brokenness and Wholeness” before shofar blowing, and a prayer for those who cannot fast. The translation is contemporary with a user-friendly commentary and extensive transliteration of congregational Hebrew. There are thematically related texts to encourage personal spiritual reflection. The design is aesthetically sophisticated and inspiring.
After an extensive examination of a variety of newly published prayer books, and with the recommendation of our klei kodesh (clergy), our Ritual Committee and Board of Governors enthusiastically endorsed Mahzor Lev Shalem (A Whole Heart) to replace the Silverman High Holy Day prayer book, originally published in 1939.
Mahzor Lev Shalem, published in 2010 by the Rabbinical Assembly and United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, is the High Holy Day prayer book of choice for the great majority of Conservative synagogues. It has been praised as attractive and accessible, a spiritual source that opens the hearts of individuals and involves a community as much as possible.
Thanks to generous donors, the Mahzor Lev Shalem volume will be available to everyone. You no longer need to bring your mahzor with you to synagogue. If, however, you still want to use the Silverman Mahzor that is part of your personal library, you are welcome to do so. This year, as we make the transition to Mahzor Lev Shalem, some pages will be announced from the new and old prayer books.
You may wish to inscribe a volume of Mahzor Lev Shalem in honour or memory of a loved one. This would be a beautiful addition to a High Holy Day card or a gift to your yom tov host. You may do so by calling the Synagogue office at 416-781-3511.
The addition of Mahzor Lev Shalem completes a triple transformation of the resources that we use at Beth Tzedec for prayer and study. We have now introduced the Etz Hayim Torah text and commentary, Siddur Sim Shalom for weekdays and Shabbat and Mahzor Lev Shalem. I am grateful to the families that have made these changes possible and thankful to the Holy One who opens our hearts to prayer and study in a combination of contemporary and classical modalities.
As I enter my final years as Senior Rabbi, Josette and I thank you with full hearts for the many good years we have shared with you. We pray that 5776 will be a year of good health, spiritual growth and the blessings of love and life.
For more information on the sources referenced in this article, visit www.beth-tzedec.org/page/articles/a/display/s/1/item/with-a-whole-heart