I’ve written here before about the challenge and reward of being part of the Sephardic minyan. For the month of Elul, we gather at 5:45am to say (and sing – but mostly sing) selichot prayers.
We awaken early in order to shock our souls awake from the deep slumber which has fallen over the past year. To scream at it that, as Rabbi Davidovich writes:
“It’s Monday, you are expected at work early, and you are a day’s pay away from foreclosure. WAKE UP!”
In the past years, selichot has been – if not a walk in the park – at least a commitment within my grasp. There were days when I was tired, there were days when I woke up later than normal. But all in all I was able to go and participate. The cumulative effect was there – by the time Rosh Hashana rolled around, all of us “regulars” were showing signs of wear and tear. We arrived at the Days of Awe strung out from lack of sleep, nerves raw, defences down.
The effect (for me, at least) was that I felt that I was approaching God from a much more honest place, from a position where my capacity for rationalization and justification was completely gone.
This year, as the second week rolled on, I found that I was losing my ability to focus during the day more and more. Not just the momentary lapse, but entire tasks and deliverables were being missed. At the same time, by ability to mitigate – to get to bed earlier or catch a nap during the day – was gone. Family obligations had caught up.
I decided I needed a day off. One day turned into two. Two became the remainder of the week.
At the same time, the additional sleep put me back on track in my daytime obligations.
So my wife (who is my greatest sounding board, who has far better judgement than me, and who has only my best interest at heart) suggested that I cut selichot attendance down to 3 days a week.
As much as I miss it, I also recognize that there is a line between pushing to a limit and pushing unhealthily past it. That as much as we must awaken our souls to the call for repentance, we must also be awake and alert to moments when our devotion may lessen rather than strengthen our service.