July 20, 2024
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Selichos: Keep Knocking on Hashem’s Door

When I was a child, my mother sent me to a nearby neighbor to borrow a bottle of milk. I was shy, but I went anyway. I rang the bell — no answer. I quickly rang again and got no answer. Relieved that no one answered, I turned around and went home. A few minutes later, my mother asked me about the bottle of milk. I said: “No one answered the door!” My mother called the neighbor who said, “Yes, your son rang the bell, but by the time I opened the door … I saw your son running halfway back to your house!”

This Motzei Shabbos, we begin saying Selichos. At the beginning of Selichos, we say the words “k’dalim uch’rashim dafaknu delasecha — as poor and destitute people we knock on Your (Hashem’s) door.” Why is this the introduction to Selichos? How does this approach elicit a proper response from Hashem?

The Dinover Rebbe provides an incredible insight. The Arizal says that the months of the year correspond to the four-letter name of Hashem of “Adnus” (aleph-dalet-nun-yud). When you spell out the names of those four letters, each is composed of three letters. The first letter (aleph) is spelled “aleph-lamed-feh.” The next letter (dalet) is spelled “dalet-lamed-sav” (dalet is sometimes pronounced “dales” by Ashkenazi Jews). Each one of these letters corresponds to the characteristics of one of the 12months. The first trio of letters correspond to the months of Nisan, Iyar and Sivan. The second trio of letters — from the letter dalet — correspond to the months of Tammuz, Av and Elul. The letters dalet and lamed spell the word “dal — poor.” These are the months of Tammuz and Av — months in which Klal Yisrael became spiritually poor with the loss of the Beis HaMikdash. However, when the last letter of the trio — sav, which corresponds to the month of Elul — is added to the word: “dal — poor,” it spells “deles — door.” The month of Elul, following Tammuz and Av, has the ability to transform a state of spiritual poverty into a deles — a doorway of opportunity. The doorway referenced is the door to a personal audience with Hashem.

Each of the 12 shevatim (tribes) also corresponds to a different month. The Shaarei Orah says that Shevet Reuven corresponds to Tammuz and Shevet Shimon to Av. The first letters of the names Reuven and Shimon are resh and shin, which spell: “rash — destitute.” Shevet Gad corresponds to Elul. These three letters spell the word: “regesh — feeling and emotion.” As we say — later on — in the introduction to Selichos, “Into the House of Hashem, we shall enter with regesh.”

We approach Hashem in the month of Elul to ask for forgiveness, much like a poor man who goes to ask for charity from a person who is known to be kind and generous. The poor man approaches the house, knocks and quietly waits for someone to answer. He’s nervous, but he knows this person is the source for the help he needs. Unlike when my mother sent me to my neighbor for a bottle of milk and I left after waiting several seconds; the poor man keeps knocking gentl, until someone opens the door, so his urgent needs can be considered and met.

Getting up early to recite Selichos is hard, and sometimes we might wonder, “Isn’t one time enough? Why every day?” The bottom line is that Hashem’s door is the only place to get our requests for forgiveness granted. Therefore, we knock every day, and we keep knocking until we get a positive answer.

An added thought here: When do we knock? I remember late one night — around 11:30 p.m. — there was a loud knock on my door. I asked who was there. It was a close friend of mine with his father. Because of the late hour, I realized there was an urgent issue and quickly opened the door to see how I could help.

We recite Selichos either in the middle of the night, or extra early in the morning. Both times express a sense of urgency. Our needs are great! As tired as we might be, the timing expresses our belief that Hashem will help answer our urgent requests.

Elul is the opportune time to knock on Hashem’s door. He is waiting to hear us knock. And He will gladly open the door, and be inclined to grant us forgiveness if we truly repent.


Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate rosh yeshiva of Passaic Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch, where he leads a multi-level Gemara-learning program. PTI has attracted adult Jews of all ages from all over northern New Jersey for its learning programs. Fees are not charged, but any contributions are always welcome. Beyond PTI, Rabbi Bodenheim conducts a weekly beis midrash program with chavrusa learning in Livingston plus a monthly group in West Caldwell. Rabbi Bodenheim can be reached at [email protected]. For more info about PTI and its Torah classes, visit www.pti.shulcloud.com.

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