Well, here we are again – September. The time when we can feel the weather begin to change, the light of the sky taking longer to brighten up our mornings (well, here in New Jersey that is) and the world around us is ramping up with activities galore after the more relaxed days of our summer season. The trees are preparing for one final moment of beauty with rich hued leaves before calling it a day while at the same time our Jewish world is preparing for our High Holy Days and we are ready to start a New Year. This is the perfect time to reflect on what the last year has been for us, what we have done right, what we may wish we did differently, and accept that we have the wonderful ability to always change our course, begin anew in some way to become the best person we can and want to be.
Judaism amazes me so many times in the sheer intelligent design of the religion. Just when it is needed most, our tradition gives us a path to accomplish this task. For those who may have never participated in Selichot, let me share with you a few tidbits of information about this beautiful service.
Selichot in the Reform Judaism tradition is a service that is held on the Saturday night before Rosh Hashanah, provided there is enough space between the two (at least 3 days between Selichot and Rosh Hashanah is customary). For this reason, this year, Selichot will be observed by many synagogues on this upcoming Saturday, September 21, 2019.
Selichot itself is a series of penitential prayers which ask for forgiveness and are truly the beginning of the High Holy Days, rather than Rosh Hashanah. The Jewish month of Elul is all about reflecting and reviewing where we have been so that when we reach the month of Tishrei and Rosh Hashanah, we are prepared to start the New Year.
Selichot service typically includes many of the sounds we hear when we attend the High Holy Day services. The music echoes the somber tones that we hear during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The chant of the prayers reflects the deeper contemplations we are undertaking. The words of the prayers themselves evoke the same self-assessing and penitential mood that we are feel from Yom Kippur service, our Day of Atonement.
I have never forgotten a wonderful description given to me by Rabbi Jerome David years ago about Selichot. He referred to it as “the overture of the opera we call the Days of Awe.” For anyone who has ever been to an opera, or any musical theater event for that matter, the overture sets the scene musically and often has sections throughout that give you a sneak peek into the songs that you are about to hear through the story. It sets the tone. Selichot does the same. It gives you a sneak peek of the coming attractions of the High Holy Days, preparing you to get the most out of the experience.
Even if you can’t get to a Selichot service, or it’s just not your style, you can do your own version of reflecting on what you’ve done this past year, if you are on the path you wish to be on in your life, and if you aren’t, prepare for how you may make a turn in your world to return to who you want to be. T’shuvah – returning to what is most important.
I will end with a quote that came into my mind last month while I was meditating. It’s not unique, I don’t know where I heard it, but when it flitted across my thoughts I knew I wanted to grab it and reflect on it throughout the next year.
“You can’t change what you have done; You CAN change what you will do.”