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Happy Selichot!

סליחות שמחות

* Translation by Yehoshua Siskin ([email protected])

Shavua tov 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: 'חטאנו לפניך' (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.


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