The Yomim Noraim machzorim are somewhat akin to a fantastic art museum, brimming with content on each floor, in every room and on every wall. The sheer quantity of the content can cause one to miss out. The depth, beauty and nuances of each work of art can elude us precisely because of the massive scope of the museum and the limited time we have to experience it.
The same is true with the machzorim. Each and every paragraph is replete with so much meaning and imagery that we cannot fully appreciate it in the short time in which we recite it. We are likely to gloss over the content and to miss out on much of its depth and beauty.
Take, for example, a prayer that is unique to the Mussaf of Rosh Hashanah: “U’vechein tzaddikim yiru veyismachu, And so, too, the righteous will see and be glad, the upright will exalt, and the devout will be mirthful with glad song.” Why will the righteous be in such a state of joy?
This paragraph immediately follows the plea for the arrival of the Mashiach, when gladness comes to the land and joy comes to Hashem’s city: “And it is during this time that those who have emulated God, those who have understood that Hashem’s stamp is truth and justice, will truly be happy.”
Clearly, righteous men and women have been waiting for the Mashiach. They have waited through the darkest times in human history, when corrupt, immoral deeds reigned supreme—deeds perpetrated both by evil empires and by the masses of greedy, depraved people.
And then comes the soothing imagery of the ultimate disappearance of evil.
“Iniquity will close its mouth . . . and all evil will disappear, just like smoke, when You remove empires of evil from the world.”
These words, of course, were written by the Anshei Knesset HaGedolah. One wonders about the pain that these Divinely inspired authors of the Shemoneh Esrei must have undergone in order to have constructed the poignant imagery in this heartfelt plea. Their words express an intense yearning to see the world rid of such perversion.
But it is not just the imagery and the depth of the words that impact us so. It is the also the extraordinarily moving niggunim (melodies). These, combined with the words of the machzor, can reach straight into our hearts and etch their mark on our neshamos. The combination of poignant prayers and soulful melodies, as well as a sincere ba’al tefillah, can melt even the most hardened soul. But all of this will not avail unless one focuses on the beauty, meaning and imagery of the tefillos.