Tonight was S’lichot, the service that kicks of the High Holy Days. It’s a brief service that happens the Saturday night before Rosh Hashanah (or, in the case of years such as this, when Rosh Hashanah begins on a Saturday or Sunday night, the week before).
I’ve long loved this service. I first experienced it in high school, when we happened to have a JFTY event that weekend (JFTY was the predecessor of NFTY-GER for my younger readers). Being there to start of the High Holy Day season with my nearest and dearest friends–in the community that felt more mine than anywhere else–was wonderful. If I recall correctly, we even did it at midnight, as the tradition calls for (most liberal communities do it on the later side on that evening, but not that late). In my adult Jewish life, even when I haven’t been a congregational rabbi, it’s a service that I try to go to.
The service exists as something like a trailer for what’s to come in services. Throughout Elul, we’ve been thinking about the ideas of the Holy Days, but at S’lichot, we get a glimpse of what’s to come. And even moreso, the time that we get to hear the sounds of the season.
For many, who do not pray daily, this is the first time we’ve heard the call of the Shofar. A sound as ancient as it is timeless. An intonation that pierces the soul and creates a visceral, reaction that is pure emotion (for someone that mainly exists in my head, and focuses so much on thinking, it’s particularly powerful). But more than that, and even for those who have heard the Shofar throughout Elul, it’s the first time we get to hear the music.
Those melodies that for many of us are the essence of the High Holy Day worship experience. From Avinu Malkeinu to V’al Kulam. From Sh’ma Koleinu to Pitchu Li. But more than that, we get to hear the High Holy Day theme song, so to speak.
That melody that exists throughout the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur liturgy, that we only get to hear once a year. For me, that melody invokes memories of holy days past. It soothes my soul, while at the same time calls me to do more. It connects me to that very moment in time, while lifting me up towards that which is possible.