Invariably, when people hear that I switched years ago (see past posts) from being Ashkenazi to being Sefaradi, I am asked “Do you eat Kitnyot on Pesach?”. Once we get past that, the very next comment (usually accompanied by a groan) is but wait, you also have 40 (!) days of Selichot compared to a relatively short time that they are said by Ashkenazim. Almost always, without fail, I am “told” that it must be so long and boring and how in the world do I manage it!?
So, let’s set the record straight as to why it is not only NOT boring, but why it is truly a daily uplifting experience.
- The Language— The language of the vast majority of the Selichot is understandable with a modicum of knowledge of Hebrew. The words, while in many cases poetic, are beautiful, deep and meaningful. They “speak” top me on a deep level and help me open my eyes (literally and figuratively!). There are no lengthy Piyutim (poetic stanzas) that require a superior English translation to understand; what you read is intelligible.
- The Tunes— Perhaps one of the most beautiful parts of the Selichot besides the words would be the haunting tunes and melodies that accompany the vast majority of the recitation (see below about the actual recitation). Over the years, I find myself humming the melodies throughout the day; awaiting the opportunity to sing them again the next morning. In addition, whereas the subject of many of the Piyutim is asking Hashem’s forgiveness, all of the tunes are uplifting and upbeat, as they indicate a sense of confidence that Hashem will hear and accept our prayers.
- Repetition— The Sefaradi selichot are the same virtually every single day (with additions during the Aseret Yemai Teshuva). One can become proficient in the words and can easily recite the phrases and words over time.
- Give and Take— As is true about most Sefaradi tefilla, there is very little “down time” where everyone is saying things silently and all then “catch up” to the chazan. In the case of Selichot, there is a constant give and take between chazan and congregation. There are numerous instances of the chazan saying part of a sentence with those sitting there “completing” the sentence aloud. Nearly everything is said together; sung together or read together in unison. It truly ingrains a sense of communal worship, devotion and penitence.
So, my reply to those who seem to groan when they hear about the 40 days of Selichot, my answer is that I love them and look forward each year to reciting them. Yes, it is true that getting up extra early each day can be a daunting task, but when I think about what the goal is and why we say all of these prayers, I say to myself that rising early in the morning is the least I could do!
Wishing all a great Chodesh Elul!