Thoughts From My First Selichot Service

September 24, 2008Sybil Schwartz

I came to the 11 pm  Selichot Service at Beth Emeth in Wilmington, Delaware on Saturday night at the suggestion of  Rabbi Grumbacher during Torah study. I came frankly, out of curiosity and to see if I could stay awake at that "unGodly" time. I had no idea of what a Selichot service was. But the Rabbi had said "come"  and when asked indicated it was a short service.

When I entered the sanctuary I was somewhat surprised to see about 35 other insomniacs. I noticed that some of the participants were members of the Beth Emeth Torah study group, chaverahs, temple leaders and probably others who were just inquisitive. I continued to wonder why all those people were not in their beds sleeping

The service was led by Rabbi Grumbacher and Cantor Stanton. The melodies were not soothing lullabies, the prayers were not trite platitudes. An atmosphere of introspection was created that seemed to lend itself to an intimate conversation with that oneness within ourselves, some refer to as God. Individuals seemed to be in their own spaces, but yet were not alone. The melodies and prayers served to raise congregants recognition of our own shortcomings, sins, and opportunities for seeking forgiveness from those who we have offended and from God.

In a short period of time we seemed to be moving toward a crescendos of recognizing within ourselves our human foibles, frailties, faults while simultaneously searching for those extraordinary fleeting moments of  holiness within our lives.  

After the service the Rabbi asked, "so what do you think?" 

I replied, " I do not know. " I probably was too tired to think. 

When I arrived home my husband asked, " What did you think?" 

I replied, "I do not know," and fell asleep.
Upon awaking in the morning I seemed to have a better understanding why I had schlepped to Temple the night before. The Selichot service seemed to create an intimate environment for connecting to our Jewish heritage, ourselves and ultimately to God. It was the appetizer that comes before the main courses of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. 
At the end of the service there was a short blast of the Shofar-somewhat aliken the alarm clock that calls us to action each morning.  Our senses were elevated-this was a wake up call-we are finite, our time is limited and there is much to do.  
And so three days later I found myself wondering, "What is the root or main ingredient of the word Selichot?" 

"To pardon, to forgive" I learned.

So maybe those who had journeyed that night to Beth Emeth were continuing in their quest to understand those eternal mysteries of holiness and God our ancestors had described. And possibly through our own personal journeys we might come to see that in the light of each morning new insights could be gleamed and opportunities to perform tzedakah and mitzvah discovered. Then maybe we'd be able find the voice to respond to the popular song, "What's It All About Alfie?" with the words of the Prophet Micah, "Only to do justly, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with thy God."

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