Larry Yermack

I am privileged to lead two meditations during the High Holidays this year at my synagogue. One will be during the Shofarot section of Mussaf on Rosh Hashanah and the other during the Avodah Service on Yom Kippur. This is largely a result of my participation in Jewish Mindfulness Meditation Teacher Training II, and the good work of my teachers Jeff Roth and Sheila Weinberg in preparing me to teach.

Each meditation will start with a discussion of mindfulness but for this article let me get to the heart of the matter. Imagine that you are sitting in services on Yom Kippur in the early afternoon:

Our tradition teaches that in the time of the Temple, on Yom Kippur the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest, would enter the Holy of Hollies to pray on behalf of the people of Israel and seek forgiveness. He would prepare himself for this moment through prayer and fasting. We are told that The Ark of the Covenant was originally inside the Holy of Hollies, but by the time of the second temple, the space inside was empty. Holy space. He would enter into the space in silence but when inside, would utter the ineffable and secret name of God, that only he knew.

We have no record of that name from any of the High Priests We only have an image of a holy man entering a holy space in silence to connect with the divine.  However, I like imagining a different scenario.

The High Priest prepared himself with fasting and prayer, both spoken and silent.  He was prepared to connect with the divine on his own behalf and that of the people of Israel. It was an awesome responsibility and perhaps the sound of a voice would have taken him out of his concentration and the holiness of the moment. Imagine instead that the High Priest entered in silence and stayed in silence. Imagine that his connection to the Divine was just his breath, his essential ruach.

I invite you now to enter into your personal holy of holies. So just sit up, in a dignified posture and gently let your eyes close.

Notice your breath as it enters and leaves the body. You don’t have to do anything special, just notice the breath either at the nostril or in the chest or in the diaphragm.  As you follow your breath, let it lead you inward. Your fasting, prayer and song have brought you to this holy moment. Allow your breath to usher you into this holy space.

As you notice a thought cross your mind, gently return your attention to the breath. This is not about clearing your mind of thoughts. Minds don’t work that way. This is about noticing our thoughts and directing our attention to this holy moment, to this holy breath.