The awe inspiring nature of our High Holidays lent itself to the establishment of several customs, rites and rituals of preparation. Last week I talked about the custom of sounding the shofar each day during the month of Elul to awaken us to the task of deep introspection of our acts and conduct of the past year. But there are still other rituals that help us prepare for the Days of Awe- another name for the High Holidays.
One of those rituals is the selichot service. On the Saturday night that falls at least seven days before Rosh Hashanah we begin to recite selichot prayers, also known as penitential prayers. They are recited in anticipation for the upcoming holidays and consist of beautiful songs and poems that reflect the themes of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Normally we recite them in the morning before the shacharit or morning prayers, and they should start on Sunday morning before Rosh Hashanah. A contemporary American custom arose to start reciting the selichot prayers for the first time at around midnight on Saturday night rather than waiting until the shacharit prayers on Sunday morning. For the rabbis there was always something mystical about the hour of midnight. By advancing the start of the selichot prayers to the midnight hour, they took on the feelings and emotions of that magical hour. Many of the melodies that we use in the service are reflective of the High Holiday motifs and it is this service, this very moment, which initiates the High Holiday Season.
We have a tradition of having some type of program on the evening of selichot that precedes the actual service. This year we are going to screen a short film entitled, “A Pure Prayer”. The theme of the movie relates to how we as a community deal with members of society that have special needs, emotionally, mentally, educationally, or physically. It is a story about a small town that struggles each year to have a minyan on the High Holidays. In this particular year they know they will be one short. The only one available to help make the tenth person is the mentally challenged son of the caretaker of the synagogue. How will the community respond?
We hope you can join us for the movie and discussion followed by our short selichot service. You can watch a clip of the movie by clicking here.