A Yom Kippur Thought

13 Sep

For the last two weeks, excluding Rosh Hashanah I have been attending slichot, the nightly requests for forgiveness and purity. The slow and somewhat haunting melody in which sections of those petitions are uttered, serve to stir the soul to action and cause serious introspection. As the nights advance, the urgency increases. The slichot on the evening before Rosh Hashanah are the most lengthy, repeating and repeating the cycle of a beautifully crafted poem, with its allusions to the characters and stories of the Bible, followed by an impassioned crying out of the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy. Although not required, these late night pleas for mercy are recited standing, which often leads me to feel the process both physically and spiritually, especially for the marathon session that precedes Rosh Hashanah.

Some features are repeated nightly, others are specific to that day. The central poem, known as the pizmon, which is different each day, hit on the major themes of this season. They are packed with beautiful imagery, and lyrical perfection. For me however, the daily inclusion of Shma Koleinu (Hear our voice), arouses the most intense feelings. We ask God to hear us and have mercy, to return us and bring us close, to not distance Gods holiness from us, and to not cast us off in old age. The simplicity of those words, especially when contrasted with the sometimes complex nature of the liturgical poetry, creates, for me, a sense of nervous anticipation. Not only do I want God to do those things, but I also want to earn that relationship.

During the week between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the slichot become shorter. Amid the imagery of God sitting with a scale and weighing the merits and demerits, is a distinct feeling of hope and certainty that we have done enough to tip the balance in our favor. In other words, the more assured we become the less we feel the need to cry out for compassion. However, there remains that little bit of doubt, and that, in essence is the source of my nervous but hopeful anticipation.

Gmar chatima tova.

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