This Saturday night, September 25, 2011, a lot of Jews might be getting a lot less sleep than usual.
In my head, the midnight Selichot service is mostly known as the dividing point between normal prayers and pre-Rosh Hashanah prayers. It’s the first time when you actually start to say the al-hets — the set of lines that starts “for the sin which we’ve committed before you by ________ and for the sin which we’ve committed before you by ________.” It’s one of those intense, will-we-live-or-will-we-die prayers, a little bit impassioned and a little bit scary.
And, as I mentioned, most synagogues hold this service between midnight and 1:00 A.M.
In the past this wasn’t a problem. In fact, I have distinct memories of stopping at synagogue on the way home from a Saturday night out. (On one occasion, it was an almost-compromising-situation that I slipped out of. Which was, to be sure, a great inspiration for asking forgiveness from G-d that year.) This year, however, the main complication is not that my Saturday night would be interrupted, but that I’ll still be awake. Having kids will do that to you. Having kids who get up at 6:30 on a good day will really do that to you.
But this, I think, is what religion’s supposed to be. Not something that makes us comfortable in our lives, but that specifically makes us uncomfortable with our lives — to remind us that there’s a greater order to the world than our petty little routines of waking up and going to sleep at the same time every night.
And then, of course, waking up a mere few hours after that and remembering the other greatest things in the world.
Selichot starts this Saturday night at midnight! Learn more about the service on MJL, and be on the lookout for Matthue sleepwalking like a zombie through your local synagogue.