In the introductory section to our Selichot prayers, we cry, “It is not with kindness or with deeds that we have come before You; we have knocked on Your doors like paupers and mendicants.” We confess right from the outset that we do not approach God to ask for something we feel we deserve. We stand before God like a helpless beggar knocking on the door pleading for mercy and compassion, desperately asking for money without offering anything in return. Like the pauper, we are desperate for the assistance that only God can provide us, and we do not have the merit through which to earn it.
Rav Menachem Bentzion Sacks, in his Menachem Tziyon (Yerach Ha-eitanim), finds it significant that we use here specifically the terms “dalim” and “rashim” in comparing ourselves to impoverished beggars, as opposed to the Hebrew words for paupers (such as “aniyim” or “evyonim”). He explains that these terms are used because they have the specific connotation of a pauper who was once wealthy. The word “dal” is associated to the verb d.l.d.l., which means “dwindle,” “shrink” or “diminish.” Likewise, the word “rash” is derived from the verb r.sh.sh., which means “impoverish,” to drive someone into poverty. The image we depict is not simply of a penniless beggar, but of an individual who had irresponsibly and inexcusably driven himself into poverty, who is forced to knock on doors because of his own mistakes, by destroying his own fortune.
“It is more precious than pearls, and all your assets cannot compare to it” (Mishlei 3:15). Nothing is more valuable than living a life of Torah commitment, than faithfully devoting oneself to the service of his Creator. As we recite Selichot, we humbly acknowledge that we are “ke-dalim u-kh’rashim” – like people who destroyed their own fortune and must now beg for compassion. We had the incomparable fortune of Godliness, but we forfeited it in exchange for the pursuit of the vain pleasures of the world. During this period of the year, we beg for God’s help in our effort to rebuild our spiritual fortune, to regain what we lost by committing to correct our mistakes, reverse our bad habits, and live the lives of the spiritual “wealth” that we must try to live.