In some ways, it is as if this, the last Shabbos of the year, is already Rosh Hashanah.
Shabbos is the source of all blessings, and from Shabbos emanate the spiritual influences for the weekdays that follow it.
Parashas Nitzavim is always read on the Shabbos before Rosh Hashanah, and one of the reasons given is that the words “Atem nitzavim hayom” refer to Rosh Hashanah.
It is also a day of rectification, a day when we can repair and make up for our conduct and actions during all the previous Shabbosos of the year. The Yismach Yisrael gives the example of a stick: One has to grasp even only the edge of the stick, and this will suffice to raise the entire stick off the ground.
This lofty day leads directly into a day that begins a new stage of preparation for the Days of Awe. Sephardic Jewry has already been reciting Selichos since the beginning of Elul, and on Motzoei Shabbos, their Ashkenazic brethren will join them. In some communities it will be recited at midnight; in others, in the very early hours of the morning.
Why, indeed, do we start Selichos at the beginning of the week?
The Terumas Hadeshen teaches that on weekdays, individuals are often caught up with trying to earn a livelihood and are unable to spend their time learning Torah. Shabbos Kodesh is a day devoted to learning Torah. On Motzoei Shabbos, after spending Shabbos learning Torah and being uplifted by the oneg of Shabbos Kodesh, the heart of a Jew is filled with happiness. Chazal (Shabbos 30b) teach us that “the Shechinah does not rest on a person while he is in a state of gloom, acting in a flippant manner, engaged in ridicule, chatter or idle conversations; but only through simchah of a mitzvah.” We therefore start Selichos on Motzoei Shabbos.
Another explanation, offered by the Belzer Rebbe, Harav Yissachar Dov, zy”a, is based on the teaching of Chazal (Shabbos 119b) that whoever recites the words of Vayechulu on Shabbos Kodesh is considered as if he becomes a partner of Hakadosh Baruch Hu.
A partner, the Rebbe says, has the right to voice an opinion of every matter, and one doesn’t “close the door” on a partner.
Therefore, on this Motzoei Shabbos we ask that this unique status of “partnership,” so to speak, be extended, and that when we recite Selichos the doors remain open to us.
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Among the tefillos we recite this night is Shema Koleinu, which begins with our beseeching Hakadosh Baruch Hu: “Hear our voice; pity and be compassionate to us.”
Few interpersonal relationships are as close as that between a father and a child. When a child is born, his father experiences great joy but has very limited interaction with the tiny infant. One of the most moving moments in a father’s life is when, for the first time, his child utters the word “father.”
This simple gesture has an enormously powerful impact on the relationship and further evokes powerful feelings of love from father to child.
As the child grows older, it is no longer the mere word “father” that brings forth these feelings, but rather the nachas reaped by the parent as he watches his child mature and grow in avodas Hashem. Each time a child exhibits proper kibbud av va’eim, each time the father watches his son daven in a heartfelt and earnest manner, the father’s heart overflows with emotion and great eagerness to do whatever he possibly can for his son, often going far beyond the call of duty in giving and helping his beloved child with all his needs.
If, chas v’shalom, a grownup child for some reason is suddenly unable to evoke his father’s love through such actions, he is forced to resort to memories of his earliest childhood. He implores his father to recall the days when simply calling “father” was the most he was capable of — yet this sufficed to bring forth powerful emotions of love and bonding.
As we continue to suffer the tribulations and persecution of exile, we are too battered and distracted to properly focus on our avodas Hashem. Our day-to-day efforts are a far cry from the glorious days when we were able to bring korbanos and sing praise to Hashem in the Beis Hamikdash.
We are the equivalent of a tiny infant. All we can utter is a shout of “Father!”
“Hear our voice,” we plea, for all we can say is “Hashem Elokeinu — You are Hashem, our G-d. …”
But nonetheless we implore, “Pity and be compassionate to us.”
(Adapted from the sefer Siddurei shel Shabbos, by Harav Chaim, the Rebbe of Chernowitz, zy”a)