Sunday, September 13, 2020
Twenty-Fourth Day of Elul 5780
Selichot is a service of penitential prayers recited late at night in the days before Rosh Hashanah. Ashkenazic Jews begin reciting these prayers on the night following the Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah. (There have to be at least three days of Selichot before Rosh Hashanah. In years when Rosh Hashanah begins on a Monday or a Tuesday, Selichot begins a week earlier.) Sephardic Jews always recite Selichot, but they start on the second day of Elul and recite the prayers on weekdays for the whole month.
Much of our preparation for the Days of Awe so far have been directed inward. We have been thinking about our mistakes and flaws and focusing on how to become a better person. That is appropriate, but it misses an important dimension of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. More than being days for putting ourselves on the therapist’s couch, these holy days are supposed to be directed outward – toward God.
At our Selichot service tonight, we will offer prayers to God that speak of the mistakes we have made and sins we have committed. We will ask God to forgive us and to be compassionate with us in remembering our sins. We address these prayers to God because we need to know that, as much as t’shuvah is about self-forgiveness, it is also about divine forgiveness. If we only seek forgiveness from ourselves, we won’t be able to escape the trap of egotism, self-involvement, and arrogance. We need to address our prayers outward to God.
Practice for this day:
The Rambam, the great Jewish philosopher and legal authority of the 12th century, put special emphasis on verbal confession to God recited out loud. Confession begins with thoughts inside of our heads, but it feels very different to actually say the words, “Please forgive me, God, for the sin I have sinned by…” than it does to just think them. When we say the words out loud it helps us to really recognize what we have done and the need to seek forgiveness. It helps us to really feel contrition for our actions. It also helps us to feel that God really hears us and forgives us.
At our Selichot service tonight, we will write down the mistakes, sins and faults for which we wish to ask God to forgive us. We will write them in the form, “Forgive me for the sin I have sinned by…” In the space below, write down your confession and say it out loud. You may wish to repeat saying what you have written several times to make sure that you really hear it.