Selichot Mindset 5780

Saturday, 21 September, 2019 - 9:33 pm

*THE SELICHOT MINDSET 5780*: This Saturday night (Sunday morning), we Ashkenazim will begin saying selichot. I’ve always seen that as the “opening ceremony” of the High Holiday season – when I stand in shul on the first night of selichot and the chazzan begins by reciting Kaddish in that special tune reserved for this time of year, that’s when I know that Rosh Hashana is shortly upon us. I have been saying selichot every year since I was a child but this year I came to a stark conclusion about doing it with joy. You see what I’m speaking about today is the difference between Ashkenazim and Sephardim and the difference in the attitude towards selichot. I for one grew up Thank God in Sephardic shul, under the leadership of my dear father may he live and be well, so here’s a recommendation for all of my Ashkenazi brothers and sisters: if you have never recited selichot in a Sephardic congregation, then make it your business to do so, at least once. You’ll probably be amazed. The differences start with the texts themselves, which are organized differently. It’s true that for both groups, the central feature of the selichot is the frequent repetition of the Yod-Gimel Midot shel Rachamim, the Thirteen Attributes of Divine mercy (Shemot 34:6-7). And both groups have piyutim (poetic recitations) that were written at various time periods interspersed between the recitations of the Thirteen Attributes. But that’s where the similarity ends. Ashkenazim, who only say selichot for 2-3 weeks, Chabas only 1 week, use different poetic recitations each day, whereas the Sephardim are content to say the exact same text every day for 40 days (with some supplementary parts added during the 10 days of Teshuva). Another difference has to do with the Shofar. The Sephardim blow the Shofar during selichot, as the Yod-Gimel Midot are recited. It’s an exhilarating thing to hear – while the congregation recites the Thirteen Atributes in unison, the sound of the Shofar rises from the crowd triumphantly, almost like the victory blasts of a conquering army charging in to defeat their enemy. Ashkenazim don’t do it that way. This leads to a very different feeling during our selichot, which sound more contrite than victorious. (Of course, we blow the Shofar in Elul as well, but not during selichot. Instead, we blow it a single time at the end of the morning prayers each day. When the Shofar is sounded this way, in a quiet room without the accompanying voices of the congregation, it also takes on a completely different character. For Ashkenazim, the Shofar becomes God’s announcement to us, calling us to attention so to speak, as opposed to our own triumphant proclamation like it is for the Sephardim. But the most significant difference between Ashkenazi and Sephardi selichot is something you can’t see if you study the texts in a library; you need to attend the different services in order to understand what I’m talking about. It’s simply that the mood in the room is fundamentally different. The Ashkenazic service is serious, contrite and in some cases almost mournful. Not so in the Sephardic service – there, one hears uplifting melodies, and experiences a joyous atmosphere. This is true even when singing in a very happy tune. So this year I consider perhaps allowing the "Chassidic selichot" take it's roll, a combination of both. Perhaps what the Rebbe would call "Shokeldikerhayt- in high spirits (wobbly)." Solemn but with joy. Joy of the mitzvah and grateful that we have the oportunity to clean ourselves up and clean our slate and pray for a new begining and a happy and healthy sweet new year. Serious and joyous aren't a contradiction after all. At Anshe Sholom Chabad we take pride in hosting Jews of all walks of Jewish history and practice. In one of the Rebbes talks, during the farbrengen of Elul 18, 5711, the Rebbe said: “It is now Chai Elul, when we begin the twelve days of reflection on the past year, and the preparation for the next year. There are two ways we can do this: with awe and bitterness, or with love and joy. One must know that even though the approach of awe and bitterness is easier, it is better and -geshmaker- more enjoyable -to start with love and joy. Ashkenazi selichot and Sephardic ones may seem so different on the surface – and yet in truth, we are both observing the same custom. The paradoxical coexistence of joy and awe is built into the very fabric of the High Holiday season. Sephardim tapped into one aspect of that paradox, and Ashkenazim to another. Now that we can pray with each other, together, we can each learn from what the other has developed, and all of us can deepen our understanding and observance of the Torah. It’s really amazing. The main thing is all our prayers to Almighty God should be answered and we should only see revealed good in our lives. amen. #pray #character #jewish #joy #god
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