Jewish High Holiday Season: Selichot

Posted by Dorit Revitch on

For many Jews, the High Holiday season begins with Rosh HaShanah and the start of the new month of Tishrei. However, our Jewish tradition teaches that the preceding month of Elul is a time of soul-searching and reflection, preparing oneself for the magnitude of the Days of Awe. It is during this time that we observe Selichot (also spelled s'lichot).

In the broadest definition, Selichot (Hebrew: סְלִיחוֹת, singular: סליחה) are Jewish penitential poems and prayers, especially those said in the period leading up to the High Holidays, and on fast days. The Thirteen Attributes of Mercy are a central theme throughout these prayers.

The core of the Selichot prayer is the Biblical text

“Adoshem, Adoshem (Adonai Adonai),

El rachum v'chanun,

Erech apayim v'rav chessed ve-emet;

Notser chessed la-alafim,

Nosey avon vapesha v'chata'ah v'nakeh

Repeated 3 times.

Source:….”. These words are known as the 13 attributes of God’s compassion.

Translation: (Adonai) G_D oh G_D, God you are merciful and gracious, slow to anger, trusting in loving-kindness and truth; preserving His grace for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression, and cleansing from sin. Pardon our iniquity and our sin and cleanse us.

” 1. Adonai, 2. Adonai, our 3. G_D, you are 4. compassionate and 5. gracious, 6. slow to anger, and 7. abounding in kindness and 8. truth you 9. keep kindness for thousands [of generations], you 10.forgive iniquity, 11. transgression and 12. sin, 13. cleansing …”.

Rabbi Yochanan explained that G_D Almighty showed Moshe Rabbenu that by saying these 13 principles they will be forgiven. Other rabbis added that to be forgiven G_D demands that we actually act according to these 13 principles, not just recite them!

In the Sephardic tradition, the recital of Selichot in preparation for the High Holidays begins on the second day of the Hebrew month of Elul, while In the Ashkenazi tradition, it begins on the Saturday night before Rosh Hashanah.

In the case that the first day of Rosh Hashanah falls on Monday or Tuesday, Selichot are recited at the beginning of the Saturday night of the prior week, to ensure that Selichot are recited at least four times.

Now let us try and find out what are the main traditions of the Selichot period, whether one month and ten days (Month of Elul and 10 days between Rosh Hashana till Yom Kippur) or one week or 4 days, but what do we do apart from recrecitig prayers.

During the month of Elul, from the second day of Elul to the 28th day, the shofar (a hollowed out ram's horn) is blown after morning services every weekday. See Rosh Hashanah for more information about the Shofar and its characteristic blasts. The shofar is not blown on Shabbat. It is also not blown on the day before Rosh Hashanah to make a clear distinction between the rabbinical rule of blowing the shofar in Elul and the biblical mitzvah to blow the shofar on Rosh Hashanah. Four blasts are blown: tekiah, shevarim-teruah, tekiah

In the following link, you can go to the YouTube video about the Rosh Hashanah Shofar blowing which demonstrates this combination of blasts. .

Rambam explained the custom of blowing Shofar as a wake-up call to sleepers, designed to rouse us from our complacency. It is a call to repentance. The blast of the shofar is a very piercing sound when done properly.

Elul is also considered the time to begin the process of asking forgiveness for wrongs

done to other people. According to Jewish tradition, G-d cannot forgive us for sins that we committed against another person until we have first obtained forgiveness from the person which we have wronged. This is not as easy a task as you might think, unless you have done it you cannot perceive it. This process of seeking forgiveness continues through the Days of Awe.  (The "ten days of repentance" or "the days of awe" include Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and the days in between, during which time Jews should meditate on the subject of the holidays and ask for forgiveness from anyone they have wronged.)

My mother Z”L, who was born in the old city of Jerusalem, told me how she could still remember how every morning the Gabai (the gatekeeper and, in many ways, the treasurer) of the synagogue would go around the Jewish quarter in the old city around 4:00 A.M. and knock on the windows of the houses of the synagogue members and shout Selichot Selichot, for the men to wake up and go to the synagogue for the Selichot prayers, and that through the whole month of Elul and the first 10 days of the First month of the Jewish year, the month of Tishrei.

Many people visit cemeteries at this time of the year because the awe-inspiring nature of this time makes us think about life and death and our own mortality. In addition, many people use this time to check their Mezuzot and tefillin for defects that might render them invalid.

As we already mentioned before Slichot is recited every day through the month of Elul (Sfardi Customs) or from the Saturday before Rosh Hashana or the one prior to it, as long as there is a 3 day period before Rosh Hashana. (Askenazi Customs) till Yom Kippur.

Selichot are recited in the early morning, before normal daily shacharit service. They add about 45 minutes to the regular daily service.

Selichot is all about forgiveness and repenting. As we reflect inside our soul and think about the year coming to an end we take account of everything we have done or didn’t do, people that we hurt or people we made happy, that is the main goal of Slichot as:  If we want to be forgiven by God, we need to act toward others as we want God to act toward us. When we forgive, we should delete and erased all bad feelings toward the repenting offender and act toward him as we did before the offense.

Selichot is all about rising up and becoming a better human than we were before, so look around you and think: whom did I hurt and why did I do that? maybe I wronged people that I shouldn’t have? Maybe it's finally time to correct it? Write a nice letter and send it, pick up the phone, call and apologize, believe me, you became a better person by doing so and made someone happy.

You know what, when we all do that, it will cause a huge ripple effect, like a huge Tsunami wave of good energy, and we might be able, with the help of G_D the All-Mighty, to change the direction this world is going to.

Who knows it might work, try it, it for sure wouldn’t hurt. Try to have some faith in G_D and in the fact that there is a lot of good stuff in the world.

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