No Summons!

The way our calendar is structured, Rosh Hashana cannot begin on a Sunday, Wednesday or Friday.

The Ashkenazic custom is for us to begin reciting the Selichos – penitential prayers – on the Saturday night before Rosh Hashana, provided that Rosh Hashana begins on a Thursday or Shabbos. If Rosh Hashana begins on a Monday or Tuesday, then the recital of the Selichos begins the Saturday night of the previous week.

One of the reasons for extending the Selichos if Rosh Hashana begins on a Monday or Tuesday is because our Sages wanted us to recite the Selichos for at least four days, and since Selichos always begins on a Saturday night, we can only get four days of Selichos if we begin the week before.

This year Rosh Hashana begins on Shabbos, so we begin this coming Saturday night.

What is the idea behind saying Selichos for at least four days before Rosh Hashana?

One of the reasons offered is that before a sacrifice was offered in the Temple in Jerusalem, it was required to have four days of inspection to ensure it was blemish free.

When the Torah delineates the specific offerings that are to be offered on Rosh Hashana, the Torah says, Va’asisem – and you shall make the sacrifices. Usually the Torah says, V’hikravtem ― you shall bring the sacrifices. Our sages teach us that the Torah is telling us to make ourselves into an offering. On Rosh Hashana – the day of G-d’s Judgement ― we are to consider ourselves as giving our lives over to the Almighty like a sacrifice.

The same way an offering required a four-day inspection period to determine that it is blemish free, so too, Selichos is recited for at least four days before Rosh Hashana to motivate us to inspect our deeds and conduct and repent so that we enter into Rosh Hashana, in a spiritual sense, blemish free.

The great Rabbi Yechezkel Abramski  o.b.m. related that when he was a Rav in the town of Slutzk , he gave a Drasha using the following metaphor. “I went out of my house late Shabbos night to attend Selichos in my synagogue, and as I’m walking through the streets I see the other Shuls lit up and filled with people Davening. So, I asked a person in the street, ‘What is happening tonight?’ He answered, “Rabbi, you don’t know it is Selichos tonight?” I asked him further, “What is the purpose of Selichos?” He quickly responded to me, “What is with you? In a little bit of time Rosh Hashana will be here!” I asked him, “What is Rosh Hashana all about?” He answered by asking, “The Rabbi doesn’t know that it is a day of G-d’s great judgement?” The Rabbi then asked the person, “Did you get a subpoena to the trial from the court?” The person answered, ‘No.’

The Rabbi then turned to the congregation and said, “I ask you, does anyone in his right mind show up to court without receiving a summons and warning? Yet, here and in every synagogue, everyone is coming on their own without being subpoenaed!”

Rabbi Abramski, then quoted a verse from Psalms. G-d declares, “To judgement you stood before today” – you came on your own – and this is the greatest proof – “that you are all My servants!’”

The Rabbi was conveying that every one of us displays an amazing inner devotion to G-d as we prepare for Rosh Hashana. What is even greater, the Torah does not even mention the name Rosh Hashana or that it is a day of judgement! We all know it – because it was transmitted to us at Mount Sinai!

The grand Rabbi, Rebbe Moshe Leib of Sassov once went on a trip and left his family for some time. When he returned, his young children asked him, “What did you bring back for us?” He remorsefully told them that he didn’t bring them anything. The youngest child turned to his father in disbelief, “It is possible for you to go for such a long time and not bring anything back for us with you?”

When Reb Moshe Leib heard this, he fainted.

When he was revived they asked him if he fainted due to the exhaustive trip. He said, ‘No.’ It was when my son asked me, ‘Father, it is possible that you were gone so long and didn’t return with anything.” At that point I imagined that this is the same question the Heavenly tribunal will ask me after I pass on. “How is it possible that you traveled the world for such a long period of time and you did not bring back anything spiritual to show for yourself?”

Hashem in His infinite kindness bestowed on us a day of Judgement followed by Yom Kippur, so that we can review our spiritual conduct and focus on our interpersonal relations and begin a new slate.

During this holiday time, we can reflect on what we accomplished during the past year in our spiritual quest, and take the stand and say, “Look at what I’ve brought You. Please keep me around, because I plan on doing even more for You during the coming year!”