Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Carlebach Selichot?

If you poll a bunch of Jews asking what is their favorite prayer service, I am pretty confident that Kabalat Shabbat would be the hands down winner.  If you similarly polled the same bunch of people what is their least favorite service - that would actually be an interesting poll to run - what would they say?

I do not think that selichot would necessarily be at the top of that second list (top 5?) - that is because for serious daveners selichot is a special seasonal addition.  However, for many people selichot can be tedious and a challenge to connect to, because of the hour it is said and the text.  When I asked an educator friend how to better infuse spirit to the Tuesday morning selichot, he replied, "do it Carlebach style".  I think his presumption was that Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach's music has made kabalat Shabbat so energized that perhaps that should be the approach for selichot.  (I have personally been to first night selichot in the 'Carlebach' genre and do think it was more positive than my more traditional experiences).

Towards this notion, another friend recently passed on to me the following three youtube clips of Reb Shlomo reciting selichot and I encourage you to listen and watch these tefillot.
Part 1/3
Part 2/3
Part 3/3

Here are some of my reflections:

  • The power of a unique niggun, the tunes for this season is very powerful and not only gets me in the mood for davening on Rosh Hashanah but is a great educational tool for students.  The nusach of yamim noraim transcends time and never goes out of style.  
  • Musical instruments just add to any tefilla experience.
  • There needs to be a tune to daven to, not just the silent mumbling along.  I think it gives a great deal of agency and helps one transcend the words to be in the moment, and extends the moment a bit longer; it makes the mediation important.
  • Stories - the actual selcihot help to tell the story of the path to teshuvah and forgiveness.  Reb Shlomo adds a few more metaphors and stories.  What story are you telling this year?  
My friend also added the following note - a good inspiration for your upcoming tefillot.  
Reb Shlomo said that sometimes when you go in to the emergency room you sit down and are patient to be seen. But when you have a really serious medical problem that can't wait you go right past the door and scream, "emergency, it's an emergency." Selichos is when a person cries to Hashem and says, "I'm an emergency." 
Selichos is when I realize that I can't wait to be close to You again! I can't wait to correct my ways, I need You to help me let myself be me again, right now. Please. My whole life is an emergency. Praying to G-d on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur is the medicine. 

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