For me, the haunting climax of the High Holidays occurs with that heartfelt end-of-Yom Kippur request: “Open unto us a gate at the time of closing of gates for the day is fast waning.” Please. Just one more chance before this year’s gates of prayer are irretrievably, irrevocably closed.
But when you pray, you wonder, don’t you, if there is an additional component to this prayer. You wonder if the prayer is not only about gates that are now closing but also about gates that have yet to be opened. Might this be a prayer for God’s assistance in opening new gates and in conquering new vistas? “Open for us a (new) gate, at the time of the closing of (old) gates, for the (old) day is departing.” This ability to open new doors is one of life’s most important skills. Life, even it’s most stable form, is a continuous progression of periods and experiences, with the doors and experiences of one period closing as the doors and the experiences of the next period open. Please, we ask God, help us progress. We treasure what was. With the dawn of a new year, please help us appreciate and develop the new treasures of a new year.
The ability, or lack thereof, to open new gates, was crystallized for me by a rabbinic peer who shared the following story. This rabbi knew a set of parents who had lost an only son in the American army during World War II. The rabbi, who was then a young man, would visit the mother and attempt to assuage her grief. During these visits, the mother invariably showed him her dead son’s room. “See?” she would say. “It is the same as it was. It will always remain exactly the way my son had left it.”
The rabbi had also become acquainted with a young Holocaust survivor who, alas, had no relatives in North America. The rabbi told the bereaved mother about this boy and about his need for a home and suggested that the bereaved parents welcome the boy into their home and perhaps turn their deceased son’s room into a living space of this survivor.
The mother’s instantaneous answer was an absolute no. She was impervious to any discussion about how mutually beneficial the relationship would be to her and her husband and to the survivor.
This is our story, isn’t it? Many of our personal “gates” have closed. People who were dearer to us than life itself may have passed away, leaving us dazed by the enormity of their absence. But other gates remain open – friends and relatives who are still with us.
Moreover, new doors leading to new relationships might be opening as well. For example, we might have retired from jobs that gave structure and focus to our days, but new doors of study and volunteering might beckon.
“Psach lanu sha’ar be’et ne’ilat sha’ar ki fana hayom,” “Open unto us a gate at the time of closing of gates for the day is fast waning.” Let us maximize whatever opportunities God sends our way this New Year. They may indeed be new gates.
A shanah tovah and a sweet new year to all.
Rabbi Weber is spiritual leader of Clanton Park Synagogue in Toronto.