Creating a Mikdash M’at
Preparing your home for the High Holy Days
With the current health pandemic and restrictions on group gatherings, our kitchens have become our classroom, our basements are our yoga studios, and the dining room has become our office. Where, then, is our synagogue?
The rabbis asked this same question right after the destruction of the Temple. Without a localized place of worship, how could we pray together? We are the inheritors of their answer: our home would become our “mikdash m’at,” a miniature sanctuary, a holy place. Our current challenge is to create a sacred space at home while we are in front of our computers, whether on Zoom or streaming Temple Emanuel services. What can help us create both that spiritual mindset and that spiritual refuge?
As much as we’d love to, we are not able to gather in our beautiful synagogue for the High Holidays. We will certainly miss being in person together, with the majesty of large crowds standing close, singing in harmony all our familiar and moving tunes. But we will be “together” safely— in our own homes and/or in small outdoor groups. This year, we have a unique opportunity to create a sacred space in our home— a mikdash m’at—for the High Holidays and beyond. These ten suggestions are meant to help you enhance the High Holiday experience at home, while creating a communal atmosphere for us all.
- Choose your prayer space thoughtfully and in advance by spending a few moments of individual contemplation/family discussion. Don’t wait for the last minute!
- Once you have chosen your space, say a blessing or kavannah (“intention”) over it to mark it as your mikdash m’at. Suggestions of verses and blessings are below.
- What chair will you sit on? Why is that the best choice for you? Put a cushion or festive pillow on it, or drape it with a special piece of fabric or scarf. It should be comfortable – but not so comfortable that you are likely to fall asleep. Couches may not be the best idea.
- Transform your space from a day-to-day or work space to a contemplative space by covering the desk or table with a white tablecloth, white runner, or white placemat, and a vase of flowers.
- Find meaningful objects to grace your space. On Rosh Hashana include holiday objects like candlesticks and kiddish cup, apples and honey. On Yom Kippur you can place cherished mementoes, family heirlooms, a yahrzeit candle, and photos of loved ones to surround you. If you own a shofar, put it where it’s visible.
- If possible, move the computer space back so that you are “watching” the screen more than “manipulating” it. Consider connecting your computer to a TV screen so it feels less like a work device.
- Try to limit or disconnect auditory distractions. You can turn off your email and text message ping sounds, and/or close your email program and other apps so you can be fully present during the service.
- Wear clothing that makes you feel as if you are entering a spiritual space. Kipa and tallit are welcome if they help you express a connection to this special worship. On Yom Kippur, consider dressing in white and forgoing leather.
We all appreciate the time and effort it takes to make your mikdash m’at a reality. Think of it as a “work in progress!” May it add joy, meaning and to your holiday, and wishing you a very warm and personal
Rabbi Dean Shapiro
A special thank you to Rabbi Elyse Goldstein for creating most of this document