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Parashat Ki Tavo and Selichot: The High Holy Days Begin!

The High Holy Day Season is here! Every department at KI is preparing for High Holy Day activity. Religious school classes are beginning. The office is sending out High Holy Day tickets to our congregants. The facilities staff are preparing the Main Sanctuary, the Chapel, the parking lot, and the hallways for the large influx of KI congregants who will shortly fill every room of KI.

Cantor Levy is reviewing the High Holy Day Mahazorim/Prayer Books with Rabbi David so that he will be totally familiar with our ritual practices, readings, and visual prayer screens. Cantor Levy also is describing our rich and varied High Holy Day musical experiences to Rabbi David so that he will be comfortable with our traditions.

Shir KI, our fantastic Adult Choir, has been rehearsing the KI High Holy Day repertoire for three weeks. We have begun to learn a new song, Gesher Tzar M’od by Baruch Chait, a Hasidic song that Rabbi David has requested we sing as the anthem following his Rosh Hashanah sermon. The song is a popular and haunting setting to a teaching of the Hasidic Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav: “All the world is a very narrow bridge, and the most important thing is not to be overwhelmed by fear as we cross over.”

I am sure that Rabbi David is preparing his High Holy Day sermons with great care. His carefully selected and inspired ideas will become his first High Holy Day teachings to our congregants!

Both Rabbi David and Cantor Levy are also reviewing the family and children’s service that they will lead on Rosh Hashanah afternoon.

This coming Shabbat, we shall read the portion of Ki Tavo. Moses our teacher is continuing his review of Jewish Law and practices that the Israelites must know before they enter the Promised Land. Moses instructs the people to settle and cultivate the new land, and to proclaim their gratitude for all that Adon-i has done for them, by bringing first fruits as a sacrifice. Moses continues his description of the blessings that will be recited on Mount Gerizim, and the curses for failure to observe G-d’s teachings that will be recited on Mount Eival.

The traditional second half of this portion are filled with horrible curses and punishments that will be meted out if the Divine Laws are not obeyed by the Israelites. Because of the catastrophic contents of these curses, these verses are read in the Synagogue “soto voce”-in an undertone and very rapidly! The Torah Aliyah containing these curses, called “the Tochacha,” is never given to a congregant; it is only delegated to a Synagogue staff member to deflect the specified horrors! Many years ago, the portion of KI Tavo was my Bar Mitzvah portion! My Cantor trained me to read the first four portions only. I was not allowed to read the section containing the Tochacha.

This coming Saturday evening at 8 pm, the High Holy Day season begins in earnest with the recitation of the Selichot penitential prayers. These prayer texts are designed to guide us through the painful process of communal forgiveness, and, hopefully, repentance. They are found in every part of the Yom Kippur Service-Kol Nidre, Morning, Afternoon, and Ne’ilah. This Saturday evening, they are introduced to the congregation for the very first time this year!

For the first time, the High Holy Day music is sung by the Cantor and congregation! Cantor Levy and I shall sing a few High Holy Day duets! The Selichot Service functions like the overture of a Broadway show. Just the way the Broadway pit orchestra plays excerpts of the forthcoming show’s big hits, so too does the Selichot Service introduce both the music and the ideas of collective and individual repentance. The Cantor leads the congregation in Ashamnu, the alphabetical confessional; Avinu Malkeinu-Our Sovereign, our King; Sh’ma Koleinu-Hear Our Voice; and other major prayers found throughout the Yom Kippur Service.

Cantor Levy and I encourage you to join in the expressive and enthusiastic singing of the High Holy Day liturgy with full and loud energy and passion. We want you to join in the melodies that Cantor Levy and Shir KI sing. The High Holy Day music concentrates our spirituality and focuses our sincerity. I enjoy hearing our KI congregants pray together with fervor, and I love watching everybody follow the liturgy on our screens.

All the Tilman’s wish you L’shanah Tovah Tikateivu V’tehateimu! May you be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life for a New Year of repentance, happiness, and good health!