Closing the Gates
Artist: John Frederick Kensett
Here, the artist captures magical liminal space, as the sun sets over the water. It is not quite day, not quite night, but we know that darkness will soon sweep over us. On Yom Kippur, this is the time of day when our hunger and thirst are at their height, when our prayers feel most pressing, when we feel the greatest sense of urgency. But this is not an image of anxiety, but rather one of serenity. How can we find a sense of internal calm amidst the high-stakes energy of these High Holy Days?
At the very end of Yom Kippur comes the N’ilah service. We imagine standing before gates which slowly begin to close before us. We feel a sense of urgency as we seek to ensure our prayers are heard. The day was long and we are exhausted. With our last ounce of energy, we present our authentic selves, with nothing but prayer on our lips.
Mishkan HaNefesh, Yom Kippur, p. 621
This poem captures the urgency of the final moments of Yom Kippur. We feel the sun begin to set and gates begin to close. Yet we still plead for closeness, for compassion. The personal work of this season is strenuous and we are exhausted. But our time has not yet run out, as we yearn for one more chance to right our wrongs, to commit to a life centered on justice and compassion.
Yearning Just a moment - a shaft of sunlight in the fog, a shift of mind and heart, a breath of peace. Just a moment - that's all I ask: to feel You there. to know Your touch, to see the truth behind these words we speak. At the end of this long day - one last chance to stand before You. Exhausted as I am, I still have hope. Just a moment - let me pray.
Excerpts from Mishkan HaNefesh: Machzor for the Days of Awe © 2015 are under the copyright protection of the Central Conference of American Rabbis and used by permission of the CCAR. All rights reserved.
וַתִּפֹּל אֵשׁ־יְהוָה וַתֹּאכַל אֶת־הָעֹלָה וְאֶת־הָעֵצִים וְאֶת־הָאֲבָנִים וְאֶת־הֶעָפָר וְאֶת־הַמַּיִם אֲשֶׁר־בַּתְּעָלָה לִחֵכָה׃
וַיַּרְא כָּל־הָעָם וַיִּפְּלוּ עַל־פְּנֵיהֶם וַיֹּאמְרוּ ’יְהוָה הוּא הָאֱלֹהִים יְהוָה הוּא הָאֱלֹהִים’Then fire from God descended and consumed the burnt offering, the wood, the stones, and the earth; and it licked up the water that was in the trench.When they saw this, all the people flung themselves on their faces and cried out: “Adonai alone is God, Adonai alone is God!” --- In the final moments of the final prayer service of Yom Kippur, this line “Adonai, hu haElohim” is repeated seven times in a row as we enthusiastically exhaust any energy and prayerfulness we have left. The text comes from this moment of ecstatic celebration concerning the prophet Elijah. Elijah had challenged 450 the priests of Baal (a Canaanite God) to prove that indeed Adonai was the one and only true God. The challenge called for both deities to ignite and burn a sacrifice on a soaking wet altar. Baal did not respond to the prayers of the priests, but the awesome presence of Adonai was on full display. The Israelites’ realization and affirmation of the miraculous power of God has become our affirmation for the power and wonder which we experience at the close of Yom Kippur.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]