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"The Joy of Selichot?"

08/28/2018 05:29:57 PM


Rabbi Reuben Israel Abraham, CDR, CHC, USN (ret)

Selichot refers to the penitential prayers that are traditionally recited in the middle of the night on the first Saturday night that is at least four days prior to Rosh Hashanah.  It is during this prayer service that we begin to ask Hashem to hear our prayers and have mercy upon us.  We beg HaShem over and over and over again for forgiveness.  This is the central theme of the Yamim Nora'im, the Days of Awe, from Rosh HaShanah through Yom Kippur.  While each day has at least one specific piyyut, poem, added to the Selichot prayer service, the central part of the Selichot prayers is where we continually ask HaShem to use H-s thirteen attributes of mercy when judging us.  The central theme of Selichot is our asking HaShem to hear our prayers and forgive us.

In the Ashkenazic tradition, one reason given for starting Selichot prayers on Saturday night is found in Leket Yosher, a work written in the 15th century by Rabbi Yosef ben Moshe.  We start reciting Selichot prayers following the close of Shabbat, because at that point in time people are rejoicing over having been able to celebrate Shabbat.  Our Rabbis teach in Masekhet Shabbat of the Tamud Bavli that the Shechinah, the Divine Presence, will only rest upon us when we have simchah, rejoicing.  "Thus it is most appropriate to pray with simchah shel mitzvah, the rejoicing of the mitzvah."   Why would we rejoice when asking HaShem to forgive us?  Because we know that He will grant it.  We need joy in order to bring HaShem's presence upon us.  We declare in the Selichot prayers the following verse of Isaiah 56:7 in which HaShem states, "I shall bring them to My holy mountain, and I shall make them rejoice in my holy prayer."

In this week's parashah, Parashat Ki Tavo, we read about the horrible curses that will be brought upon us "because we did not serve Hashem with rejoicing and a full heart." (Devarim 28:47)  Note that is not because we did not serve HaShem that we are punished.  We are punished because we do not have joy in our hearts and souls when we serve Hashem through our prayers, and our prayers are to be the vehicles by which we express our gratitude to Hashem for all He does for us.  So how do we attain this joy?  It is through the recitation of the Selichot prayers that we are to focus on making ourselves complete.  And how do we make ourselves complete?  Our Rabbis teach us that we do this by helping others.  We cannot expect to be complete in our avodah, our service to HaShem unless we are sensitive to the needs of others.  The more we work on helping others during these Yamim Nora'im, the closer we will feel Hashem's presence in our lives and the more joyous our prayers will be.

As we recite Selichot prayers beginning this Saturday night, let us rejoice in the love and forgiveness that Hashem has for us at this time!  And let us rejoice in our willingness to be here with and for each other!

Tue, July 27 2021 18 Av 5781