Slichot . . . Forgiveness

August 31, 2018

Usually, the first Motza’ei Shabbat (Saturday night immediately after Shabbat) before Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) is dedicated a Slichot service – traditional prayers asking for forgiveness for the mistakes we’ve made in the past year. However, this year, Rosh Hashanah Eve is on a Sunday night. Therefore, the Slichot services are this Saturday night – a week earlier.

Even though the Sephardic tradition is to recite special Slichot prayers every morning for the entire month of Elul, the month preceding the New Year. The Ashkenazic tradition, however concentrates on a late night service. Many of our local synagogues will have special Slichot prayers.

In evaluating our mistakes in the year that has passed, we ask ourselves so many questions: What kind of people were we? Did we wrong anyone? Have we forgiven anyone who has wronged us? Even those of us who are 100% kind and 100% well intentioned, upon introspection, realize that perhaps we’ve made mistakes at the expense of others. How do we make up for those mistakes? Our tradition tells us that if we repent, God forgives our sins on Yom Kippur, The Day of Atonement. But the tradition adds that God doesn’t automatically forgive all our sins:

God forgives sins committed against Him, but offenses against people must first be forgiven by the injured persons themselves.

Babylonian Talmud, Rosh Hashana 17b

During Elul, the sound of the Shofar calls us to self-examination and soul searching. We are told:

Forgive your neighbor . . . and then, when you pray, your sins will be forgiven you.

Ben Sirah, 28.2

The idea taking stock just before the High Holidays has so penetrated Jewish life, that it even has had reverberations in the secular Jewish world. The Yiddish and Hebrew author Y. L. Peretz (1852 – 1915) was a secular Jew who grew up in an Orthodox Jewish world, and who by the age of 15 had rejected religious life. His ties to the traditional Jewish world are strikingly reflected in most of his stories. The notion of compassion and soul searching and the slichot traditions are reflected in his famous story: If Not Higher. The Rabbi of Nemerov is thought by his followers to ascend to heaven during the slichot prayers.

Listen to the story read from the Jewish Short Stories recordings produced by the Yiddish Book Center.

If Not Higher. Narrated by Isaiah Sheffer. Introduced by Leonard Nimoy.