In any good marathon run, there are points along the way where we receive nourishment, catch our breath and sharpen our focus on the ultimate goal. The last leg of the marathon, is often the most trying and most urgent. The month of Elul has embedded within it both a ‘rest stop’ and that sense of urgency as we race towards Rosh HaShanah. Selichot—prayers for forgiveness get added prior to the traditional early morning liturgy, beginning the Sunday preceding Rosh HaShanah until Yom Kippur. Jewish law requires that there be three days of Selichot recited before Rosh HaShanah; therefore, If Rosh HaShanah falls on a Monday or Tuesday the recitation of Selichot begin the prior Sunday.
As the High Holy Days leading up to the Noraim (awe-filled days) are a time of uncertainty—we have neither been written nor sealed in the Book of Life—we approach the days of Selichot with trepidation as we are vulnerable—at risk in the days that follow. We acknowledge this vulnerability through various customs associated with the first day of Selichot.
- The first service of Selichot is traditionally held at midnight—the witching hour—a time when we feel unsafe, vulnerable
- The liturgy contains High Holy Day melodies to heighten our awareness of the approaching Noraim
- The theme of the service is one of turning and forgiveness
- The dominant color is one of white—purity—as clergy will dress in white robes and the covers of the Sifrei Torah are changed to special white ones
Selichot sets the tone for the High Holy Days.
Our congregation will observe Selichot this Saturday beginning at 8 pm. The evening will include light refreshments, Havdalah, a 45-minute study session, “Kol Nidre in Tradition and Modernity,” and the Selichot service which will conclude with congregants changing the Torah covers.
May we all approach the New Year with hearts filled of repentance, forgiveness and hope.