For those who do not know much about the Jewish faith, this weekend is the celebration of the Jewish Spiritual New Year Rosh Hashanah ( Passover was the traditional start of the Jewish calendar/ political new year). As a convert to the Mormon faith, the Jewish holidays take on different and very fascinating meanings in my life. Especially profound is the incredible focus on covenant relationships, spiritual renewal, repentance and judgement. In the next week I hope to write a couple of posts about this time and to draw on reflections and connections that are of interest to me at the very least.
Last saturday, I attended a midnight prayer service that is called Slichot (Apologies/Repentance) this is a prayer service that is said throughout the around two week period from the saturday before Rosh Hashanah and Yum Kippur or the Day of Awe and Atonement. Slichot is a lengthy prayer service entirely dedicated to repentance for ones transgressions. Slichot is a service that is done in order to bring one up to a spiritual state of purity whereby one can stand before God as a friend in worship in service this weekend. The Slichot are made up of what Jews refer to as the Thirteen Attributes of God which can be found in the Book of Exodus
“Merciful God, merciful God, powerful God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abundant in kindness and truth. Preserver of kindness for thousands of generations, forgiver of iniquity, willful sin and error, and Who cleanses. (Exodus 34:6-7)”
By reciting these attributes and dwelling on the insignificance of man in comparison to God, one is able to achieve a state of forgiveness and spiritual forgiveness.
One thing that is slightly abnormal about Slichot is that it is begun on a Saturday evening. The usual focus of the Jewish week of Prayer is the Sabbath which begins Friday evening, and continues until an hour after sunset on Saturday. Interestingly, some Rabbis and Jewish religious authorities explain this day shift by saying that the Jewish community during the prayer of Slichot is taking upon itself the redemption of the whole world rather than just its own community. The Sabbath day is viewed as the bride of the people of Israel, and is something specifically linked to Judaism. Sunday, in contrast, is viewed as the first day of general creation and so Slichot is done so that it may best effect the whole world.
This is consistent with the Jewish interpretation of the suffering servant in Isaiah 53 as referring to the Jewish people as a collective rather than to an individual messianic figure ( I of course would hold that a passage can have multiple layers of meaning and that both may be possible):
4 Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.
5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.
Thus, there’s a focus that I often heard, especially in Chabad services, growing up on the redemptive nature of the Jewish experience. Jews are suffering in the world and persecuted in order to bring further and greater light into the world.
To all of my non-Jewish and or LDS readers, I will continue writing tomorrow about the symbolism of the shofar, and a few other rituals of repentance that I think are incredible interesting such as Kaparot and Taschlich. Until then, realize that this weekend is a spiritually significant one on which Jews believe that Heavens are especially close to the earth. There is a belief that our prayer has more efficacy and power this week than on any other. In other words, during this period, it is almost as if the whole word is transformed into a temple or place of rest of God. It is a spiritual belief that seems to be a prefiguration of the millennial period when gods presence will rest perpetually on the earth and all will be at peace.
Shanah Tova v’Metucha