It was almost midnight as the rabbis picked up the Torahs gently, as if they were swaddled babies, disrobed the scrolls’ velvet covers, and replaced them with pristine white ones.
The purity of a new year. The possibility in forgiveness. The dawning of awareness.
This past weekend, I attended Selichot services for the first time in my life. This is a once-a-year service that takes place late at night on the Saturday a week before Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.
It is the service of awakening, of realizing that our day of reckoning is coming soon, of basking in the poetry of the liturgy that will hit us hard a week later.
In all my years of observance, I had never attended Selichot – whether because I was the new mother of little babies and late-night time was precious or because it just wasn’t on my radar. This year, my eldest son Asher accompanied me to the synagogue, where we gathered with a collective of Jews from the Conservative synagogues in Detroit, to sing reverent prayers together and loud late into the night.
Selichot is the Hebrew term to refer to Jewish penitential poems and prayers, especially those said in the period leading up to the High Holidays, and on Fast Days. God’s Thirteen Attributes of Mercy are a central theme throughout these prayers.
After the Torahs were clad in white, the son of one of the rabbis ascended the bimah and blew hard and long into a shofar, a ram’s horn blown during our holiest season as a wake-up call for the Jewish people.
I hadn’t heard the shofar since last year, and it felt so special to hear it a bit before the entire community will when we arrive to synagogue in our finest clothes, ready for the annual pilgrimage back into God’s bosom.
Until now, I had not spiritually prepared, at least not deliberately, for the coming spiritual season.
In the past, I’ve prepared food, prepared my family, prepared by buying new clothing, getting the house ready, inviting guests.
But I never took the time to really prepare deep within, to clean up my spiritual house so that when I ask forgiveness and hope to be inscribed in the Book of Life, I am truly deserving.
This year feels different.
Perhaps it’s because I am stepping into the role of parenting tweens and teens, who don’t need me hands-on as much as they did when they were little. Perhaps it’s because I have the luxury of thinking about these events before they arrive.
Perhaps it’s because I don’t have to cook feverishly for an onslaught of guests, since Dan and I are without kids for Rosh Hashanah.
Whatever the reason, this spiritual preparation feels so important, and so reassuring. As if I am finally stepping into my destiny, becoming aware of who I am meant to be, focusing on what really matters.
I spend so much time reckoning with the idea that we run frantic through our daily schedules, focused so heavily on what really does not matter much at all. I agonize over the little things, perhaps to keep away from worry about the big things.
But this year, the dawning feels real. It feels all-encompassing. It feels as if I am truly taking stock of who I have been, and who I want to be, and lingering in the silence to face it rather than run from it.
We had a meager turnout for Selichot, but that’s ok. Most of the modern world is too busy for ritual worship on a regular basis. I was, too, until I decided there wasn’t much that was more important.
For me, it’s essential to set my moral and spiritual compass before heading in any direction, on any task.
The mission of my life is directed by meaning, not by the mundane. Which makes this time a great celebration of chances, starting over and the idea that no mistake is irretrievable.