Early and Late
It was 5am. It was also 6am. It was just in time. It was long overdue.
The month of Elul began today, but as I write this post, the auspicious first day – Rosh Chodesh (the last one of the year) is almost over.
My alarm clock went off at 5am Central Time because that’s where I am this week. But since I normally live on Eastern Standard time, my internal clock told me it was 6am. Regardless of what the clock said, it felt like “not enough sleep yet”.
I had to be at a client’s office by 7am, which meant I had no time to spare. I had to get everything else done quickly so that I could take my time in approaching God, offering up the praises, petitions and thanks that were in my heart.
But almost immediate after I started, with the morning brachot – a part of the daily service I actually know – I moved into unknown territory: Selichot. While many Jews (Ashkenazim) will only pray this service during the days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, Jews of Spanish and mediterranean descent (Sephardim) pray this service for the entire month of Elul – waking up early and singing poems asking for forgiveness until dawn.
I have never prayed a Selichot service – it just wasn’t part of my repertoire until this year.
And that’s how I found myself – alone in my hotel room far from any minyan, let alone a Sephardi one – making a go of it and making the best of it before moving on to Shacharit.
It wasn’t until later in the day when a (Sephardi) friend emailed me and said “We start Selichot services tomorrow morning. You going to be there?”
I had forgotten that yesterday was Rosh Chodesh, but today was too. That whole “sundown-to-sundown” thing caught me again.
I happily noted how unperturbed my friend’s email made me. While I had completely missed the prayers for Rosh Chodesh, I had
“risen at dawn to beg [forgiveness] for my iniquity, my soul [stained] black due to my many blatant sins.”
Unwittingly, I realized, I had pre-emptively asked to be forgiven for the complete snafu I was in the process of committing.
On a higher level, one could say that I had simply arrived at this years’ party a little early, having missed out on it for the first 40 years of my life, and I didn’t want to be late again.