Selichot might very well be the service I love the most during the High Holidays.
Maybe it’s because I learned about Selichot as an adult. While raised in an observant household, it was truly when I returned to Jewish religious practice as an adult that I found deeper meaning in the practice and intent of many rituals. I actively sought out new opportunities, and gave myself permission to learn more about what I didn’t know, not allowing fear to stop me. I was willing to take the risk, feeling a far greater void in my life for not knowing, than fear in putting myself out there in uncharted waters.
One of those times was learning about Selichot. Living in New York, I ventured to CBST for the service, unaware of what to expect other than excited to have the opportunity to study more with Rabbi Cohen, Rabbi Kleinbaum, and Rabbinical student Reuben Zellman.
What wonder I found at joining together with all of these people, each on their own individual path to come to understand, where in their life they have continued to grow over the past year, and where they still need to turn themselves over. And to be doing this in the late evening hours, joining together at the dawn of a new day, at the turn of the clock! Our defenses were a bit down. We were more able to see ourselves in a sheerer light, more vulnerable to the feeling of time’s passing, and for some of us, to the mortality of our lives.
After having cancer at the age of seventeen, I had this subconscious story, this fear, that I would not live long. I thought I had let this story go. This past month, I went from doctor to doctor, test to test, all routine to ensure that my body is still doing it’s thing. I was turning myself over, making sure that my thyroid hasn’t stopped functioning properly because of radiation, that my lungs and heart aren’t experiencing long term side effects from the chemotherapy. These are moments that cancer survivors, young and old, wrestle with — often in silence, often alone. I share this story, for to turn ourselves over, as we’re taught, means we must also come together.
As I enter Selichot, I am preparing to turn myself over again to think through what it has meant to live with this fear. This October marks 12 years for me as a cancer survivor. When I realized this two weeks ago, and I sat with the number twelve, I realized I was still wrestling with one of my deepest fears of mortality. That I didn’t think I’d still be alive. I understood that my task this Selichot is to still work on letting go, not only of this fear, but so many of those fears, those stories one can hold within that limits our possibility from becoming all of who we truly have the potential to become. Of all of our own self-criticism, self-doubt — of all of the ways we can get in our own path. And so part of the lesson is to learn how to live.
So, with that, I want to leave you with a beautiful quote from Marianne Williamson, reminding us that as we move into Selichot, into this time of returning, and turning ourselves over, that we must embrace all of our brilliance — and that hopefully in our liberation, that in our ability to shake off our deepest fears, those around us will live from their best selves — that they too will shake off their deepest fears, so that our liberation will join us together, a force in repairing our world.
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, “Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?” Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” — Marianne Williamson