Translation by Yehoshua Siskin
As of last night, everyone – including Ashkenazic communities – is now saying selichot (communal prayers for Divine forgiveness) and will continue doing so until Yom Kippur. Last night, I participated in selichot prayers led by my brother-in-law, Yitzchak Meir. We were joined across Jerusalem by thousands of others. Suddenly, I noticed something: The selichot text speaks about all our misdeeds of the past year, yet the congregation recites the words with singing, dancing, and much excitement. This is not a contradiction; it's the essence of these days.
Those who participate in selichot will see for themselves: Rather than despair, there is hope. Selichot prayers are attended by optimistic people, people who believe that it's possible to change ourselves and the world around us. This is exactly what is said in this week's Torah portion: "Because this matter is very close to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can fulfill it." (Deuteronomy 30:14)
We have been given an annual opportunity to deal with what is wrong, with what is in need of repair, with what is completely broken. But to fix things properly and to improve, we need to recognize our mistakes. It's not pleasant to admit that "we have transgressed, we have acted treacherously." It's much easier to ignore our errors and to go about our business as usual, rather than to stop and think about how we failed ourselves, others, and God during the past year, yet this is the way of getting back on the right track.
Was it just my imagination, or was the Jerusalem air really clearer when we went outside after saying selichot?