In the introduction to the Selichot prayers, we compare ourselves to paupers knocking on doors: “We come before You without kindness or [good] deeds; we have knocked on Your door like paupers and beggars.” On one level, this analogy expresses our acknowledgment of unworthiness, that we ask for something that we have done nothing to deserve, like a beggar asking for assistance that he has done nothing to earn.
However, the image of knocking on a door might also evoke a deeper emotion – a feeling of estrangement and vast distance. A person knocks on a door if he is unable to enter, or if he does not belong. The need to knock bespeaks a sense of dissociation between the person at the doorstep and the home’s residents. The entrance is blocked, due to either the physical obstacle of a locked door, or because of a lack of belonging and connection. As we prepare to recite the Selichot prayers, we acknowledge this distance and disconnect. Reflecting upon our state of spiritual deficiency, we feel the need to “knock”; we sense that we do not belong in God’s presence. We see ourselves as peasants standing at the door to the king’s palace, overwhelmed by the grandeur of royalty and its contrast to the tattered rags which he wears. The very concept of Selichot, of coming before God to confess our wrongdoing and ask for forgiveness, makes us feel so distant, out of place, and unwelcome as we approach the Palace.
By the time we arrive at the end of the introductory section of the Selichot, however, we change our perspective. This section concludes, “…He in whose Hand is the soul of every living creature, and the spirit of every person of flesh. The soul is Yours and the body is Your handiwork – have compassion on Your creatures. The soul is Yours and the body is Yours – O Lord, act for Your Name’s sake.” At this point, we do not feel distant or disconnected from the Almighty. Instead, we see ourselves as His creatures, His handiwork. No matter how far we have drifted from the path we were to follow, no matter how “impoverished” we may be on account of our faults and mistakes, nevertheless, “The soul is Yours and the body is Your handiwork.” It is only at this point, upon arriving at this realization, that we can proceed to the actual Selichot prayers. Once we recognize that despite our unworthiness, even though we have distanced ourselves from God through our wrongdoing, we are nevertheless incapable of drifting too far, as God is always close and always makes Himself accessible, we can then approach Him with broken hearts but uplifted spirits, confident that He welcomes our prayers and eagerly awaits our sincere repentance.