Hello from New York. “Welcome to the happiest days of the year,” I have been saying during my lectures here. “No, I am not confused,” I reassure the audience. “What we call ‘Days of Awe’ are the happiest days of the year.”
From Motzei Shabbat (Saturday night), the Ashkenazim begin reciting Selichot (penitential prayers); Sephardim have been reciting them since the beginning of the month. These prayers are the gateway to new hopes and new beginnings, to optimism and renewed faith in our capacity for change. Think about what the world would be like without ever feeling remorseful or asking for forgiveness, without the ability to regret the past, to change the present reality, and to make progress as we embrace the future.
Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveichik once said there are two powerful words that we utter during these days without giving them any special attention: Chatanu lifanecha – We have sinned before You. It’s true that we have sinned, but we did that before You. We are in a process that includes shame and regretfulness. We do not think we are perfect in any way, and we definitely sinned during the past year. However, the main idea is that we did this before You and then, as now, we are with You. We can tell You everything and ask You to help us change, to improve, to start over.
Instead of feeling broken with frustration and alone in our despair, we know where to turn. We sinned, but this was done before You, and so we pray to You to make us whole.
A Bookseller Asks Forgiveness From His Customers
At the entrance to an Or Hachaim bookstore branch in the Har Nof neighborhood of Jerusalem, I received a reminder of what the Days of Awe are all about. Moshe Kirschner, originally from the United Kingdom, recently began working there and felt that he had been impatient with some customers. Therefore, he hung a sign at the entrance to his store that reads as follows:
“Due to the many responsibilities and much hard work demanded by my new job here in Har Nof, I have been under a lot of pressure. I showed impatience with several customers and I wanted to ask for their forgiveness. I invite anyone I hurt to come into the store so I can personally ask for their forgiveness in a proper way. I will endeavor to change from the depths of my heart so this does not happen again. And I hereby wish that everyone should be immediately inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life.”
Moshe relates that people are now coming into the store to talk about the sign, but not to seek an apology. They compliment him on his attitude and also on the sign’s title: “Ki nafalti – kamti,” meaning “Had I not fallen, I could not have risen (to new heights).” Everyone falls, but doing so allows us to rise up even higher than before.
I thought to myself that Moshe the bookseller deserves to be acknowledged for teaching us the meaning of the Days of Awe.
Translation by Yehoshua Siskin.