The prayers and tunes of S’lichot are meant to crack into our yearnings for all that is good, righteous and holy, and to point us toward our own errors. We’ve put stumbling blocks in front of ourselves. Realizing that we’ve knocked ourselves off our own feet, we’re called upon to see our regrets as a doorway to repentance.
On S’lichot, on the evening of our penitential prayers, we live simultaneously in the shadows of our past and in the flow of what might be. Night has fallen. Shabbat has ended. In the depth of darkness, with and a growing self-doubt, we do something remarkable. We pour out our regrets to God.
Missed opportunities, roads not taken, friends forgotten, family ignored, promises broken. Saying ‘yes’ when ‘no’ was the answer. Saying ‘no’ when ‘yes’ was the answer. Chasing false ideas. Making hollow vows. Punishing loved ones with silence. Hiding. Denying. Betraying our best selves with old habits. The petty theft of wasted time. The grand larceny of withholding love.
This isn’t a theoretical construct. The prayers and tunes of S’lichot are meant to crack into our yearnings for all that is good, righteous and holy, and to point us toward our own errors. We’ve put stumbling blocks in front of ourselves. Realizing that we’ve knocked ourselves off our own feet, we’re called upon to see our regrets as a doorway to repentance.
In this awkward moment, the challenge arises: will I hold tight to my past – my errors, my old habits – or will I become part of the flow of healing that will be offered to all of us in the coming Days of Awe, in the coming High Holy Days.
Throughout the month of Elul, we pour out our regrets before God. We begin our journey toward t’shuva by recalling the distress of our misdeeds, but we do it with the expectation of salvation. As deep as that well of remorse may be, as overwhelming, as seemingly unending, we act with faith that it’s finite. There is bottom.
We pour out our regrets with the certainty that the unfailing promise of redemption is infinite. The promise that a willing heart will find a path to holiness and healing is forever. Forever forgiveness. Forever love. Forever peace. Forever hope. Forever healing. Yes, it is hard work. It touches the very core of sorrow.
When we pour out our regrets, there’s nothing left but a raw and stark choice: to live another year of the same regrets or to being the hard and risky work of walking a new path. When we pour out our regrets to see our own defects, there’s no escape from forgiveness. Forgiveness of self. Forgiveness of others. Perhaps even forgiveness of God.
S’lichot is another chance, in a season of chances, to begin, or to continue, the journey toward repentance. We pour out our regrets knowing that our sorrows and our joys are forever intertwined. We pour out our regrets, to be free of their power to keep us in spiritual bondage. We rend our own hearts with remorse, in full faith that a greater healing will come. Then, we will cry no more.
Cry no more for the sins of the past.
Rejoice in your repentance and your return.
For this is the day that G-d made
To lift you up from your sorrow and shame,
To deliver you to the gates of righteousness.
Love is the crown of your life
And wisdom the rock on which you stand.
Charity is your staff
And justice your shield.
Your deeds declare your kindness
And your works declare your devotion.
Cry no more for your fears and your dread.
Rejoice in your blessings and your healing.
For this is the day that G-d made
To raise your countenance and hope,
To deliver you to the gates of holiness.
© 2017 CCAR Press from This Grateful Heart: Psalms and Prayers for a New Day