The Great Gate — Erev Rosh haShanah 5777

07/10/2016 at 08:49 Leave a comment


[P’tach Lanu Sha’ar]


Shanah Tovah!  I first heard the melody for this chant in 2014 in Jerusalem.  That was a difficult summer, with tseva adom sirens regularly sounding across the country as missiles fired from Gaza exploded overhead, keeping everyone on edge.  At the time it seemed that there was a hardness developing within everyone’s attitude – a posture of defiance to compensate for the fear that was felt — threatening to definitively encrust our hearts – and after long, insecure days, one evening, a group of us descended into a basement of an art gallery in the German Colony off of Emek Refaim, sitting together, learning new songs – and protecting and cherishing something within us — reminding us that past the unease, we were holy.  This is one of the songs that we learned that day.


[P’tach Lanu Sha’ar]


And now, as we look to greet this New Year – 5777 – we are on the cusp of uncertainty as we eye the upcoming elections, and the boiling contempt in our country – and as we see the seismic shifts of people across countries, and as we see the creeping platitudes and acidic contempt that thwarts reasonable dialogue and conversation.  It seems that in our anxiety we become more brittle – predisposed to lash out from our narrow irrational places in a vain attempt to posit a defense and assert our control.  Echoing the 20th century poet, William Butler Yeats – we worry that the ceremony of innocence is drowned – the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.


And now we gather, each of us from our specific places, into this sacred, special place — hearing the summons of community and hoping for the reestablishment of good prospect in the New Year.  We want to say abracadabra – that we will say something affirming and that it will instantly come true – like the Ba’alei Shem Tov of the Middle Ages – the magicians in our tradition who could manipulate speech for positive effect.  We want good.  We want to be safe.  We want to be right and we want to be loved.  We want to declare that God should open the Gates – and by our command, the Gates will open.


Gates that offer welcome and sanctuary, proving that our efforts are sound and worthwhile.  We chant these words of inception P’tach Lanu Sha’ar – joining our efforts to the storied efforts in our tradition as our Talmud describes, when after choosing lots – a random process similar to that described on Purim, the Priests entered into a special, specific doorway, unlocking the Sha’ar haGadol – The Great Gate — bearing gifts – a sacrifice in hand – an investment for the future.  Each of us in these days passing through the entrance into the New Year, performing our own humble Divine service, preparing to offer our own sacrifices, creating our experiences of the future based on our personal outlook.


Our Talmud (Tamid 30b) speculates that the sound of this Great Gate opening in Jerusalem resonated and was so powerful and emphatic, as to be heard over 15 miles away, in Jericho.  Each of us it seems, randomly selected who have gathered, representing others who are not here now, confidently opening the Gate in front of us – so we can walk through to search for God, expressing ourselves with meaning.  This was not a surreptitious lock picking done in the dead of night – rather, we too can open the Great Gate in front of us with a joyful noise – a powerful, compelling exertion as we greet the New Year.


Tonight is the night to raise our voices and cry our tears, unafraid – thus, unbolting the barriers that are before us – recognizing that with our efforts we can halt what seems to be our polarization, our plummeting, and our disenchanted scattering — and re-form this world back towards a paradise – our mighty efforts emanating from deep with us, melting the impediments towards harmony with the stoked fire burning in our souls.


Tonight, we are not asked to believe in anything specifically, as the new year begins.  The High Holydays are to be considered as a magnificent love story, between us and God – indeed, as Rambam teaches us that our highest purpose is to be madly in love with the One Above (Hilchot Teshuvah, 10).


Tonight, we are neither to utter a creed nor perform a preset doxology.  We are encouraged to explore.  Rather than accuse, we are enjoined to ask questions.  We are encouraged to shake the gates with our love, until they open with such a clatter.  As the foundations of the world ominously rumble, dayeinu – that we have decided to show up at this gate, our gate, at all.  With our roar against disillusion, we are to demand and act as if things can get better – and then we will not be cowed by setbacks or the current troubles that we face.


In the Jewish mystical tradition there are many books.  From the 13th century there is a book entitled the Bahir, allegedly authored by the great sage, Isaac the Blind.  This book comments on the Creation Story, found in the Book of Genesis – it mentions that the world did not come into being by a particular act of creation – rather, the world has always existed, and it is only our apprehension of creation that reveals its wonderment.  As we notice things, then they take on substance – how many times does it happen, that once we see something once, we begin to see it everywhere.


As we draw energy from the Eternal – from the Ein Sof, the Infinite nature of God – we bring things forward into the world.  As we speak, we are able to create.  The Bahir was written in the Aramaic language – like the language of the Talmud – and the way to say, I create as I speak is Abara k’ Dabra – or abracadabra.


We have choices in this world – we can whet our tongue to create violence, or we can recognize that despite violence and despair in the world, we can create blessings by how we conduct ourselves.  We can withstand assaults – whether they are from an external enemy, or from within our own family and community circles – indeed, these are the High Holydays, not the Low Holydays – a time to imagine and dream – and to recognize that our traditions are beckoning each of us to cast open wide that Great Gate before us, so the sound of its hopeful opening – a belief in tomorrow — is heard across the land.


And in this new, revealed space past the open gate where we make our home this year, what intentions do we have for the New Year – our social media culture encourages us to be shady, snarky, cynical, anonymous, and trolling – let us instead be responsible, gentle, loving, and considerate.  How can we direct our light to illumine our path and not set stumbling blocks for others?  How can we positively create as we speak?  Abracadabra.


On the cards that you have received this evening is the chant that we have begun.  We call for the gate to be open, and it opens.  The word sha’ar is repeated.  Is the gate we look for the same gate that is actually before us, or do we ask for one gate, and get another one, entirely?  Does it matter?  Are we willing to just call out and see what happens?


What personal gate would we like to open – to address our sorrows, and to encourage blessings to flow from our lives out into the world?  I have asked each of us to think about an 18-word blessing – to affirm life and to begin our New Year in a good way.  To inspire us to craft something, I think it is to our benefit to hear from each other now about the Gates that we would like to open with a loud clang.  So, we will hum the melody of the chant, and if you have a Gate or a blessing to offer, in one or two words, please do so now – you are welcome to close your eyes, as we offer our intention in our sacred space.  May each of us open the spaces within us so we can gain koach and emunah – strength and faith to walk in the world beyond the Gate just before us.  Dayeinu, we should have the merit to walk together into the reverberations of this year.


As Lyndon Johnson said, we may not have chosen to be the guardians of the gate, but there is no one else.  My blessing for us in eighteen words – may we open a movement of blessings in our community with compassion, good health, vigor, self-awareness, and joy.  What sounds, what words, what love will you bring forth now, that will echo from here to Jerusalem, on to Jericho, and back?


[Hum – P’tach Lanu Sha’ar]


From here, in these opening days of the New Year, I ask that you take some time and fashion for yourselves an 18-word blessing for the New Year.  If you get stuck, you can start in Hebrew with Baruch Atah haShem Elokeinu Melech haOlam – and then you’ll only need twelve more words.   I hope that you would like to share your blessings with each other – and that your words can help represent our community.  I am determined that we will not let hate stand – we will not let heedlessness be our way – and we will not let fear grip us to the point of immobility.  Cast your blessing into the void – make a joyful noise into the unknown.  Invest in the future.  Loudly open that Great Gate that is just before us and walk with confidence in the yet unknown New Year that will give us strength, faith and resolve to address what we see.


We need each other – and as we open our Gate, let us help open the Gate of others, as well – for the gate of our neighbor may be the gate we need to have open for ourselves, as well.  Open the gate for each of us – and the gate opens.


[P’tach Lanu Sha’ar]


Shanah Tovah u’Metukah

Ketivah va’Hatimah Tovah


Entry filed under: Judaism, Torah, Uncategorized. Tags: , , , , , .

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