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Catching Up

09/19/2019 01:34:02 AM


It is not by accident that Ki Tavo, the portion we read this week, is always read in the two weeks before Rosh Hashanah.  Famously, it speaks of the consequences brought upon the Jewish people, blessings or curses, depending on whether they follow God’s will or not. It makes sense - this is a time when we are contemplating the consequences of our actions, positive and negative, and how they will bear fruit in the year to come. Three times, the portion uses a striking turn of phrase to describe how we will encounter both the blessings and the curses: “Vehisigucha” - “they will overtake you.” The fact that the portion says that blessings and curses will overtake us corresponds to many aspects of life, but particularly the High Holidays.

The High Holidays remind us that we cannot outrun the consequences of our actions. There is a good chance that our misdeeds will eventually come back to roost. Our good deeds also bear fruit in ways that we can rarely fully anticipate. 

Many things in life creep up on us. We may be anticipating a celebration, wedding or Bar Mitzvah, and even though the planning takes months, the last week is often a frenzy of unreadiness. Conversely, we are also frequently unprepared for the greatest challenges of life. How can we be truly ready for a life-threatening illness, or mortality? Holidays as well often catch us unaware, and the High Holidays, falling at a different point in the calendar each fall, often in the midst of a return from the quiet of summer, have a particular propensity to sneak up on us.

It is for precisely that reason that our tradition instituted the Selichot liturgy. Ashkenazi Jews begin reciting these penitential prayers on a Saturday night about a week before Rosh Hashanah (Sephardic Jews start even earlier!). We gather some 4-10 days before Rosh Hashanah to be reminded of the texts and melodies of the season. This first service of the season is striking because it is often held in the middle of the night. It is a warning, if you will, that the holidays, with their potential for blessings and curse, will overtake us, and we do not wish to be caught unaware.

For the last several years, we have conducted the Selichot service jointly with seven other congregations. This year, this Saturday night, we are bringing the service home to B’nai Torah. The evening begins with Havdalah at 8:45 PM, then continues with refreshments, a  movie and discussion, and then the penitential prayers will begin place at 11:30 PM so that the service will touch the midnight hour.

As we approach the new year, we pray that we will be overtaken by God’s blessings. Having an introduction to the High Holidays gives us the opportunity to ensure that we are not caught unaware.

Sat, September 30 2023 15 Tishrei 5784