A meditation for Ne’ila, the closing service of Yom Kippur.
Yom Kippur leads to the urgency of this moment. At Ne’ila we rouse each other from our complacency by saying, “Open the gates in the hour of the closing of the gates. The day is passing away. This is our chance. Now.”
We read in Talmud (Brachot 32b):
“From the day that the Temple was destroyed the gates of prayer have been closed … but even though the gates of prayer are closed, the gates of tears are not closed.”
How can this be?
When the Temple was destroyed, the Jewish paradigm shifted from Sacrifices to Prayer. Our hearts became the altar; our words became charged with power and layered with meaning. Saying the right words became the Jewish obsession.
The Talmud warns us that it’s not the words but our tears that will, in the end, matter. In the deepest, wisest, most expansive place of my heart I know that the Gates are always open.
When the Talmud says that the gates have been closed, the rabbis are expressing a true feeling, and a true condition of this agreed-upon world. Yes, sometimes it feels as if those gates are locked, as if God is hiding Her face, as if we are being denied access to clarity, to the big picture, to fulfillment, to our own wholeness, to Eden. And we can throw a whole machzor of words at those gates and they remain locked.
I believe that we all have moments when those gates simply vanish, and we find ourselves at the center of a vast spinning universe. And in that moment we are just an infinitesimal speck, and yet we are also connected to the whole, completely embraced.
Even when I know I’m part of the whole, I return to my small world again. When those gates seem locked, I turn to my practice… so that I can remember this truth that I have glimpsed. I breathe in to my capacity for wholeness and then I am filled with compassion for myself and the world.
And I turn to my community of practice so that we can remind each other. A community of practice is essential, because without it, I might easily fall into alienation, doubt, judgment or even insanity. As a community of practice, we can look into each other eyes and see that larger Reality reflected and magnified.
And still I return to my small world and stand before those locked gates, knowing what I know- that this world is only the surface of that much larger Reality. Suddenly, there are tears that spring into my eyes. And those tears are sourced from the place that is beyond word, thought or explanation.
If I were to capture one of those tears and examine it under a spiritual microscope, I would see suffering, agony, unbearable frustration, but also joy, wonderment and heart-stopping surprise at the miracle of existence itself.
These are the tears that will open the gates.
And this is what I learn from my practice: If I am awake, every moment is Ne’ila. “Open the gates in the hour of the closing of the gates. The day is passing away. This is our chance. Now.”
With every moment I have the opportunity and the challenge to see this world embedded in the larger Reality of God, and transformed by that context.
Oh, is this what Albert Einstein meant when he said, “The Field is the sole governing agency of the Particle”??? When we can know ourselves in God, every particle, every situation, every dilemma, every relationship, everything is transformed. The day is passing away; it’s time. This is our chance. Now.
עִבְרוּ עִבְרוּ בַּשְּׁעָרִים, פַּנּוּ דֶּרֶךְ הָעָם
Ivru, ivru ba’sh’arim, panu derech ha’am. (Isaiah 62:10)
Go through, go through the gates, clear the way of the people!
Rabbi Shefa Gold is director of C-DEEP, founder of Kol Zimra, and author of The Magic of Hebrew Chant: Healing the Spirit, Transforming the Mind, Deepening Love (For People of All Faiths, All Backgrounds) (Jewish Lights, 2013.)