28/09/2012 at 09:55 Leave a comment

“Before the Gate of Peace”


Parashat Vayeilech

Neil F. Blumofe

22 September 2012

As we stand today, a couple of days before Yom Kippur, we look to Moses, who is standing a couple of days before his call to judgment.  Our commentators imagine him circulating among the people, connecting with them for the final time as he consoles them, offering closure as he prepares to die.  As dramatic as this may sound, our tradition guides us towards similar actions as this Day of Atonement approaches.

We are to consider our death in these days between Rosh haShanah and Yom Kippur – as we call it teshuvah, or the process of making things right with people — the underlying idea is that we are presently getting our affairs in order, looking to patch disagreements and saying things that need to be said, that belie our honesty, as we stand in particular, intimate relationships.  We decide what we can live with and who we can live with, and what we can discard – we ponder what matters in our life, what is inseparable from who we are – and what is mere furnishing – a garnish that decorates our plate.

As Moses prepares for his final speech – we too organize what we would say, if these are our final days – and rather than think that this exercise is too ghastly, if we regard our own death without fetish, but rather with objectivity and perspective, these days of making teshuvah can be incredibly powerful and if we are blessed to live for another year, transformative.

At this time, the gates are wide open – the gates of our life, for us to walk through – beckoning us to cultivate confidence and an honest appraisal of who we are today.  Our Talmud teaches, woe to the person who makes a gate for the courtyard, yet who has no courtyard (Shabbat 31a).   On this Shabbat Shuvah, we consider how we present ourselves in practice, as an exterior handiwork, as contrasted to the worth of the individual threads that weave together our character.   What is the portrait that we show to others – our profile, or our timeline, as opposed to the persistent thoughts that we carry and never share, or the qualities or the concerns that we have that never rise to the surface?  What if we could engage the most important people in our life and patiently, and without malice, confide in them exactly what we think – and we were listened to without judgment or condemnation?  What if, as we described ourselves plainly, we were received with patience – and if not approval, than indispensible consideration and comprehension?

And what is we offered the same, in return — our method of teshuvah would be more limited and more valuable.  If we lived by these actions, we wouldn’t have to squeeze a perfunctory attempt at reconciliation into a few brief moments in a hectic week.  I am not speaking of confiding in a trusted counselor or therapist only – I am suggesting that, like Moses, we go among our tribes in these days and make time for this work.  Find one person or two who are partners in your life and sit together — open up, show the inside seams of our glorious outer work – get beneath the surface, go past the gates that we publicly construct and show another our inner courtyard.

Over the days of Rosh haShanah, I spoke about particular gates – the Golden Gate, which is the eastern entrance to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem – the entrance, our tradition teaches, where the Divine Presence, the shechinah, comes and goes – the entrance that will be used by Elijah the Prophet when the hearts of the parents and the children are again in harmony and turned towards each other.  And in our day and age, this Golden Gate is shut up tight.  Our tradition also teaches that as there is a Jerusalem with all of its gates leading to the Temple that exists in our physical world, there is an exact reconstruction of this eternal city both in heaven and in our soul.  To begin, let us be moved to try and unseal this Golden Gate, as it exists within our soul.

What is in our inner courtyard?  Do we have an interior life that we can track and are we willing to share aspect of it with chosen others?  If we are merely part of a mixed multitude that storms these open gates of life – of justice and mercy – without reflection, then we have not yet lived up to the responsibilities of this time.  Each of us has our individual gate – that we must first recognize before we can enter.  There are many gates that we build throughout our lifetime — gates that can bring us to exceptional places and towards extraordinary things, yet there is this one gate that is located in our core that can bring us to our greatest meaning – that many of us spend our lives running away from in consternation and fear.

One may argue that in this week’s Torah portion, this is the gate that Moses finally enters.  Speaking from the heart allows him to finally make peace – and making peace is our ultimate and greatest task.  On this Shabbat Shuvah, we move from the gates into our city, past the Golden Gate and discover the entrance into the Holy of Holies – the Gate of Peace that leads into our inner courtyard.  It is here that we can engage our deepest truths and acknowledge our challenges that linger due to our upbringing and our environment.  It is through this gate that we can explore our emotional genetics and all of the influences that inform who we are in the moment.

Let our journeys be both earnest and safe.  Let us stand together next Tuesday evening, having made peace with our present circumstances as we stand in our peaceful community, ready to embrace this next great encounter of standing alone before God, ready to take responsibility for not only our deeds, but too, our very lives.  May we be privileged to stand together this year and in the years to come – with encouragement and with ease as we shoulder this great work together – confronting our mortality without a safety net and because of all of our preparation now and throughout our years, with a sliver of joy and the inner light of contentment.

Shabbat Shalom – G’mar Hatimah Tovah.

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