Today’s daf is a challenging one which deals with complex discussions about the blessings we make on various food stuffs. I therefore decided that as tomorrow night we start saying selichot I would share some ideas about these additional prayers said at this time of year.
The following is adapted from an article on the chabad website:
The Midrash tells us: King David was anguished when he prophetically foresaw the destruction of the Holy Temple and the cessation of the offering of the sacrifices. “How will the Jews atone for their sins?” he wondered.
G‑d replied: “When suffering will befall the Jews because of their sins, they should gather before me in complete unity. Together they shall confess their sins and recite the order of the Selichot, and I will answer their prayers.”
With the imminent approach of the Days of Awe, our preparations for the High Holidays move into highest gear. Several days before Rosh Hashanah we begin to recite the Selichot, a series of penitential prayers and liturgy.
According to Ashkenazi custom, the first Selichot are recited on Saturday night after halachic midnight, and a minimum of four days of Selichot must be observed. Therefore, if the first day of Rosh Hashanah falls on Thursday or Shabbat, the Selichot start on the Saturday night directly preceding the New Year. If Rosh Hashanah falls on Monday or Tuesday, then Selichot commence on the Saturday night approximately a week and a half before Rosh Hashanah. Following the midnight service, Selichot are recited daily (except on Shabbat) before the morning prayers, until Rosh Hashanah.
Sephardim recite Selichot throughout the entire month of Elul.
It is important to attend synagogue for Selichot, as its text contains several important passages which may be said only in the presence of a minyan (quorum of ten Jewish men).
Most Jewish communities continue reciting Selichot throughout the Ten Days of Repentance. According to Chabad custom, however, Selichot are not recited during these days (with the exception of the third of Tishrei, when Selichot are recited as part of the commemoration of the Fast of Gedaliah).
The story is told about the fourth Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch, who once asked his illustrious father, the Tzemach Tzedek*, regarding the reason for this custom. “My son,” he responded, “now is no longer the time for words. Now we must translate words into deed . . .”
The message for us must surely be that we combine both an increase in our supplication to God, and at the same time increase our actions both in relation to mitzvot** between man and God, and mitzvot between man and man!
* Menachem Mendel Schneersohn (September 9, 1789 – March 17, 1866) also known as the Tzemach Tzedek was an Orthodox rabbi, leading 19th centuryposek, and the third Rebbe (spiritual leader) of the Chabad Lubavitch chasidic movement.
** The primary meaning of the Hebrew word mitzvah (“commandment”, Hebrew: מִצְוָה, [mit͡sˈva], Biblical: miṣwah; plural מִצְווֹת mitzvot [mit͡sˈvot], Biblical:miṣwoth; from צִוָּה ṣiwwah “command”) refers to precepts and commandments as commanded by God. It is a word used in Judaism to refer to the 613 commandments given in the Torah (at Mount Sinai, where all the Jews accepted the Torah, saying “We will do, and we will listen”).
The secondary meaning of Hebrew mitzvah, as with English “commandment,” refers to a moral deed performed as a religious duty. As such, the term mitzvah has also come to express an act of human kindness.