Judaism is a process l Worship

By Glen Pickus, Temple Beth Or | Sep 12, 2018

As the sun sets on Yom Kippur (Sept. 19 this year), the process of seeking atonement for the past year’s transgressions ends for Jews around the world.

The beginning of that process formally started on Rosh Hashanah, 10 days earlier at sunset last Sunday with the start of the 10-day period sometimes referred to as the “Ten Days of Repentance.”

However, because being Jewish means being part of a process, we actually started building up to Rosh Hashanah and the ensuing 10 days with the Selichot service.

Selichot occurs on the Saturday evening before Rosh Hashanah, unless Rosh Hashanah starts on a Monday, as it does this year. In that case, the Selichot service occurs on the Saturday night prior to the Saturday before Rosh Hashanah. (If you’re keeping score at home, that means this year the Selichot service at Temple Beth Or was held at 8:45 p.m. Sept. 1.)

The Selichot service is not as common or widely observed as the High Holy Day services. In fact, I had never heard of Selichot until I was almost 40 years old when Rabbi David Fine became Temple Beth Or’s rabbi.

At its most basic, the Selichot service provides a time of soul-searching and reflection for Jews to prepare themselves for the magnitude of the Days of Awe (another name for the Ten Days of Repentance).

In Hebrew, Selichot translates to “forgiveness.”

Selichot prayers are penitential prayers said before and during the High Holy Days and other fast days throughout the year. While these prayers were initially only recited during the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the custom developed to use them in the days beforehand as well.

The prayers emphasize the merciful attributes with which God is said to govern the world. They also speak about God’s ability to forgive transgressions, iniquity, and misdeeds.

Traditionally Selichot services begin late at night and in some congregations sometimes last until dawn. At Temple Beth Or, Selichot services start around 8:30 or 9:00 p.m. and last about two hours.

We incorporate into our service the ritual of replacing the everyday Torah covers and Ark curtain with special white coverings used only from Selichot until the end of Yom Kippur. The white represents purity and the wish that through repentance, our misdeeds will be made white as snow.

For me this ritual provides a physical catalyst to acknowledge that the coming days are special which in turn helps me prepare for the difficult work of atonement.

Selichot starts the atonement process through prayers and meditations that encourage us as individuals to reflect on the past year and the changes we wish to make in the upcoming year.

If the process works, by the time we are ending our Yom Kippur fast we have achieved at least some level of forgiveness from those we have wronged in the past year.


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