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לימוד תורה

'Slichot' and longing for Judaism

Rabbi Eliezer Shenvald – The Parasha in our everyday life- Ki Tavoh - 5781

Last week, as part of my reserve service, I had the opportunity to visit the IDF base of Safed, my childhood hometown. There, as in probably many other bases, dozens of 'non-religious' soldiers gathered together every night to say 'Slichot' after midnight. Needless to say, the next day they were required to continue to function normally, most of them in demanding and challenging roles that required alertness and concentration.

In recent years, also here in Modi'in, many young people who are 'not -religious' get together as well to recite 'Slichot' after midnight. A few years ago, a mass grouping 'Slichot' took place at the Western Wall, there were tens of thousands of participants. Many were 'not-religious'. ‘Slichot tours’ in the small hours of the night have long become a focal point of attraction for many visitors even ‘non-religious’. This is also the case among those who come to the Synagogues on Rosh Hashanah to hear the blowing of the Shofar, the fasts and the participants in the prayers on Yom Kippur.

The participation in 'Slichot' is another proof, for those who need it, that the artificial 'definitions' that seek to differentiate and separate parts within the people of Israel are not valid! This does not mean that everyone is the same, but these definitions are artificial, and are mostly influenced by politicians and the media. And that the right dialogue is the 'unifying discourse' and not the separating discourse.

The month of Elul's atmosphere, preparation for the High Holidays, and the 'Slichot' surrounded by magic and magnetic splendor, attract those longing for a connection to Judaism and to the Master of the Universe. People from different backgrounds find a connection to the melodic, catchy and conciliatory style of 'Slichot' of the Edot HaMizrach: religious and non-religious, men and women, old and young people, scholars and commoners, from all ethnicities and political affiliations. Each one connects according to his spiritual place and soul. 'Slichot' also express the longing of the Jewish heart to connect to the common denominator that unites us all: the fact that we are Jews, and come to pray together.

In our Parasha, Parasha Ki Tavoh, we read about the two-sided choice, ours in G-d and G-d in us:

אֶת ה' הֶאֱמַ֖רְתָּ הַיּ֑וֹם לִהְיוֹת֩ לְךָ֨ לֵֽאלֹקים וְלָלֶ֣כֶת בִּדְרָכָ֗יו וְלִשְׁמֹ֨ר חֻקָּ֧יו וּמִצְוֺתָ֛יו וּמִשְׁפָּטָ֖יו וְלִשְׁמֹ֥עַ בְּקֹלֽוֹ׃ וַֽה' הֶאֱמִֽירְךָ֣ הַיּ֗וֹם לִהְי֥וֹת לוֹ֙ לְעַ֣ם סְגֻלָּ֔ה כַּאֲשֶׁ֖ר דִּבֶּר־לָ֑ךְ וְלִשְׁמֹ֖ר כׇּל־מִצְוֺתָֽיו׃

"You have affirmed this day that Hashem is your G-d, that you will walk in His ways, that you will observe His laws and commandments and rules, and that you will obey Him. And Hashem has affirmed this day that you are, as He promised you, His treasured people who shall observe all His commandments "(Devarim 26:17-18)

The words 'הֶאֱמַ֖רְתָּ' and 'הֶאֱמִֽירְךָ֣' are interpreted as:

לְשׁוֹן הַפְרָשָׁה וְהַבְדָּלָה — הִבְדַּלְתָּ לְךָ מֵאֱלֹהֵי הַנֵּכָר לִהְיוֹת לְךָ לֵאלֹהִים וְהוּא הִפְרִישְׁךָ אֵלָיו מֵעַמֵּי הָאָרֶץ לִהְיוֹת לוֹ לְעַם סְגֻלָּה

"Distinction and differentiation: Thou hast separated thyself from idolatry to be thine G-d, and He hath separated thee from the peoples of the earth to be unto Him His treasured people". (Rashi ibid)

The Tosafot interpreted: " The word האמרת, means: “an exchange of something.” G–d credits the Jewish people with having traded in any other deities in favour of the invisible Creator, who had revealed Himself to them at Mount Sinai. In response to that act, the Creator traded all the other 70 nations on earth as His potential favourite, and chose us instead." (Daat Zkenim Baalei HaTosafot ibid).

Concerning the precise meaning of these two verses, we read the following: “The Holy One Blessed Be He said: “you have declared Me as unique in the universe, by declaring “hear o Lord the Lord our G–d the Lord is unique.” Therefore, I have reciprocated by declaring you as a unique people for Me.  Like in Chronicles 1 17,21: 'ומי כעמך ישראל גוי אחד בארץ', “and who is comparable to Your people Israel, a unique nation on earth.” (Talmud tractate B’rachot 6a).


This means that we distinguish G-d as unique and special, and G-d distinguishes His people as special people among all other nations. However, there is also another meaning, of oneness. As we recite in the Shabbat afternoon prayers:

"אַתָּה אֶחָד וְשִׁמְךָ אֶחָד וּמִי כְּעַמְּךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל גּוֹי אֶחָד בָּאָרֶץ".

You are One and Your Name is One; and who is like Your people Israel, one nation on earth”.

This reciprocal relationship of faith and connection to G-d, is a point that unites us into 'one people'.

But there is also an oath language in this:

את ה' האמרת וגו' וה' האמירך היום כבר נשבענו להקדוש ברוך הוא שאין אנו מעבירין אותו באל אחר ואף הוא נשבע לנו שאין מעביר אותנו באומה אחרת

We already took an oath to the Holy One, Blessed be He, that we will not exchange Him for a different god, and He too has taken an oath to us that He will not exchange us for another nation.” (Gittin 57b)

We swore allegiance to G-d and he swore to us, forever.

The uniqueness of the name and the unity of Israel that arise every year through the month of Elul, culminate on Rosh Hashana with the Shofar blowing, and in the union around our common denominator as Jews - to "enthrone" G-d and make Him special:

"לְדוֹר וָדוֹר הַמְלִיכוּ לָאֵל כִּי הוּא לְבַדּוֹ מָרוֹם וְקָדוֹשׁ. וכו'. וְיֵעָשֹוּ כֻלָּם אֲגֻדָּה אֶחָת, לַעֲשֹוֹת רְצוֹנְךָ בְּלֵבָב שָׁלֵם"(מוסף לר"ה).

“From generation to generation proclaim G-d as King, for He alone is exalted and holy…… And may they all form a single band to do Your will with a perfect heart.” (Musaf Rosh Hashanna)

And in this spirit, we shall read the Haftarah on Shabbat:

וְעַמֵּךְ֙ כֻּלָּ֣ם צַדִּיקִ֔ים לְעוֹלָ֖ם יִ֣ירְשׁוּ אָ֑רֶץ נֵ֧צֶר מַטָּעַ֛י מַעֲשֵׂ֥ה יָדַ֖י לְהִתְפָּאֵֽר׃

And your people, all of them righteous, shall possess the land for all time; They are the shoot that I planted, My handiwork in which I glory”.

Saturday night, the Ashkenazi communities will also join in the reciting of Slichot.

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