Categories
High Holy Days Prayer spirituality

Our Avodah (Work) during the Coronavirus Pandemic

The CCAR Committee for Worship and Practice had dedicated its work for 2019–2020 to the question: What are the spiritual practices and needs of Reform Jews—both non-ordained and ordained? We began meeting and working last fall and winter—and then the coronavirus pandemic happened.

And so, after taking a short break to adjust to an altered reality, we dedicated two of our meetings to the questions: What is the meaning of our avodah in the year of the pandemic? and What is our avodah especially during the High Holy Day season this year? 

We learned that what we as rabbis are asked to do is similar to the work of translation: We need to go back to our core theologies, spiritual practices, communal commitments, and ethical callings—and then we have to “translate” those into a new language of Zoom, Facetime, Vimeo, and Google Meet. As Reform rabbis, we are intimately familiar with the practice of translation. It is one of the first skills we practice in rabbinical school, and it forms the basis of our work after ordination: translating the wisdom of our tradition, originating in languages and cultural frameworks vastly different from our own, into an idiom that our communities can understand and appreciate. In this way, we help Torah to adapt itself to every generation.  

As we begin to prepare for the High Holy Days this year, with many of us learning an entirely new language, we found it helpful to be guided by questions—questions we want to share with you, our colleagues, along with some preliminary answers (far from being exhaustive!): 

Core Theologies, Spiritual Practices, Communal Commitments, and Ethical Callings: What Remains the Same?

  • We as clergy still model spirituality and spiritual practices.
  • Pre-existing relationships matter. It is much easier to maintain pre-existing relationships, than create new ones.
  • While some people enjoy active participation, others still simply join to watch.

Name What Hurts: Which Changes May Be Painful?

  • There is an immense pressure on clergy to learn many new skills, especially technical ones, in a short time. 
  • Virtual communities in a time of social distancing collapse the boundaries between our private and our synagogue lives.
  • Virtual communities sometimes encourage passivity, we “show” rather than “share.” 

Lean into the New: Which Changes Might Be Inspiring and Insightful?

  • The visual components of prayer become center piece. 
  • One-on-one prayer, counseling, and meetings allow for a new intimacy. 
  • Virtual communities allow us to demonstrate our vulnerability and imperfection, and this promotes connection. 

Comfort: What Can We Learn from the New Centrality of Our (Jewish) Homes? 

  • Private, personal, and home rituals and prayers gain new importance in the lives of Reform Jews. 
  • Showing our homes on screen also gives us an opportunity to share the sacredness of our own homes—this can be a form of hidur mitzvah.  
  • Leading our services from home allows for a more improvised and spontaneous experience of prayer. 

Familiarity: What Can We Learn from the New Centrality of Jewish Time? 

  • Jewish time has taken on a renewed meaning. The cycle of the holidays, the Omer, and above all Shabbat, help us differentiate between days that seem otherwise indistinguishable

While it might not have been a big surprise, it is still worthy for us to reiterate: our work is sacred work, and it has always been “mediated”—that means, it has always been communicated through books, phones, videos, touch, smiles, words, livestreams, and melodies. Our core theologies, spiritual practices, communal commitments, and ethical callings remain the same also in the time of the coronavirus.

However, during a time of prolonged distancing and a potentially altered reality to return to, we are asked to do the work of “translation”: to ask, once again, how we can make sure that our Torah may enrich, comfort, and engage our people. This is the work we do.  

Categories
High Holy Days Social Justice

Reckoning with the Sins of Slavery & Racism

I was pleased to see that the Central Conference of American Rabbis led a rabbinic mission to Montgomery, Alabama. A little more than a year ago, I, too, went on a pilgrimage to the deep South with members of my congregation. Our trip changed me. As we enter our most sacred season and prepare to make teshuvah, for the wrongdoings of our past, the lessons from my pilgrimage stay with me still. I believe as a nation, the United States must make teshuvah, atoning for our legacy of slavery by making reparations to African Americans. 

As we traveled by bus through the region, I recalled how in the Hebrew Bible, Cain murdered his brother Abel, and God, horrified, exclaimed: “What have you done? Your brother’s blood cries to Me from the earth!” All these generations later, here on American soil, nothing has changed. Blood also cries to us from the earth, the blood of millions of individuals kidnapped in chains, tortured, beaten, brutalized, lynched, incarcerated and senselessly shot down. This is why the National Memorial to Peace and Justice, where we commemorate the thousands of victims of lynching, is hallowed ground.

Teshuvah, atonement, is recognizing our sin and repairing the damage it has caused. Sometimes, when shame blinds us, we cannot see our wrongdoing clearly. Our nation has suppressed our shame over slavery and its consequences for far too long. Many of us who benefit from systemic racism—that is, those of us who are white—often suppress our shame because we are repelled by the agony that has been wrought to our advantage. We avert our eyes from the terror that’s been inflicted on millions of African Americans; we’re sickened to realize that we’re safe by virtue of our skin pigmentation. For some of us, if we’re honest with ourselves, we resist the truth because to accept it means we’ll need to shift the status quo and make substantial sacrifices. And many other white people are paralyzed by the knowledge that the full damage caused by slavery, segregation, mass incarceration, and police brutality, will never be rectified. Whatever the reasons, when white people sublimate our shame over slavery, our moral standing as a nation is diminished, regardless of who sits in the Oval Office.

I believe our shame as a nation has kept us from doing the right thing: We must make reparations to the African American community. I do not know exactly what a reparation package looks like, but I do know that there are economists, lawmakers, and scholars who have given this issue deep consideration. I know that Congress has rejected HR 40, a bill that seeks to develop reparation proposals. I know that The UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent has reported that “the transatlantic trade in Africans and enslavement…were a crime against humanity and are among the major sources and manifestations of racism…Past injustices and crimes against African Americans need to be addressed with reparatory justice.” I also know that truth and reconciliation commissions have helped other nations begin to heal from heinous crimes against humanity that occurred on their native soil.

We in the Jewish community have a unique perspective on this issue. The shadow of the Holocaust still looms large; we will never fully recover from the grief over the six million Jews who were murdered by the Nazis. Yet, because of reparations offered by Germany, we Jews know what it means when perpetrators (or the descendants of perpetrators) acknowledge their crimes and try, insufficiently but earnestly, to make amends. Some of our energy expended on anger and mourning has been re-channeled into rebuilding our lives. Because of our experience, Jewish Americans can bear witness to the healing power of repentance and reparations.

We can set ourselves free from the past. We can create our nation and ourselves anew. It is time. Let 5780 be the year in which we make teshuvah and begin the reparations process.

Ruth A. Zlotnick is Senior Rabbi of Temple Beth Am in Seattle, Washington, and is Vice President of Membership of the CCAR Board of Trustees. A version of this post appeared in The Seattle Times.

Categories
High Holy Days

Deeds, Not Fasting

In Talmudic times of trouble, tractate Taanit tells how the Jewish community needs to move forward:

The elder among them says words of admonition, “People! It does not say of the citizens of Nineveh that God say their sackcloth and their fasting, but rather: God saw their deeds, that they turned from their evil ways.”

Our High Holy Days are a time for turning.  And we know that it is neither our fasting nor our penitence that matters, but how we change our daily behavior, our deeds.  What is true for individuals is true for nations: the entire citizenry of Nineveh needed to turn from the improper path they walked together.  We know the ways in which our own nation walks are sometimes stepped in sin; our High Holy Days come to admonish us to find better pathways to the future.

This past August, we marked two sad national commemorations.  2019 marked a century since America plunged into its Red Summer, a season of violence in which white supremacists in over 36 cities (and many rural areas) unleased their fury on  black communities, killing hundreds of human beings, injuring countless others, burning many black neighborhoods to the ground.  August 18 of this year also marked the 400th anniversary of the first slave ship arriving on America’s shores.  Our summer has forced us to confront the evil ways of racial injustice that have been a part of our country since its inception.

This past August also witnessed fifty Reform Rabbis stepping forward, learning what we could do to help repair this historic and painful breach.

We travelled together to Montgomery, Alabama.   The destination was the new Legacy Museum and Memorial, build by the Equal Justice Institute to teach our nation about the direct racist trajectory from slavery through Jim Crow to Mass Incarceration.  Bryan Stevenson, the heroic founder of EJI, delivered a powerful keynote at our Cincinnati convention that called us to get proximate to this narrative, to the history, and to the lived experience of others.  Of course, Stevenson called us to learn the lessons so we might take action.  Over 50 CCAR colleagues answer Stevenson’s call for three powerful days this summer.

What did we learn? To begin with, we saw how deeply structures of injustice are built into our American way.  For many of us who had grown up proudly counting important pieces of civil rights legislation passed in the heyday of the Movement, we realized that those laws guaranteeing equal protection and equal opportunity never took their full effect.  Inequalities along racial lines are still starkly visible whether looking at the poverty line or at the distribution of prison sentences.  We learned that while individuals might consider themselves “colorblind,” our system still not only accounts for the color of one’s skin, but—according to overwhelming data and research—also disproportionally disserves people the darker their pigmentation. We learned that in an America that has always baked racism into the system, it is not enough to say, “Well, I’m not a racist.”  In a system as consistently oppressive as ours, we must actively become anti-racist.

Being anti-racist racist means many things.  First and foremost, being  anti-racist means we cannot be passive.  Being anti-racist it means actively learning about the depths of American racism, and then actively working to end our racially unjust system.  Being anti-racist means travelling outside our comfort zones to get proximate to difficult truths.  Being anti-racist means looking at the benefits we have unjustly won from the American system, and then being willing to sacrifice those most ill-gotten gains.  Being anti-racist means we have a whole lot of work to do, not just in our words, but in our deeds.

On the very day that marked the 400th anniversary of the first slave ship arriving on America’s shores, Rabbi Rachel Mikvah taught us about the difficult of dismantling racism.  The Talmud questions the extent to which we need to return objects that were stolen.  The example is brought of a stolen log that has been used—for decades—as the structural support for a grand palace.  Our Rabbis of blessed memory remind us that that stolen beam needs to be returned, even if it mean taking apart the palace, brick by brick. 

We learned this lesson in the cradle of the Confederacy, just hundreds of feet from the Confederate White House.  Yet we know that the other White House, the one that stands as symbol to many of America’s greatness, was built by enslaved individuals.  The labor that built the White House in Washington, D.C., was stolen.  The White House, therefore, symbolizes America in a different way: a structure rooted in injustice whose foundations must be rebuilt, and that which was stolen, returned.  That return, in Hebrew so appropriate for this Holy season called teshuvah, goes by many names we should not be afraid to say in English: repayment, restoration, reparations.

It is not enough that we learn about, that we talk about, that we write about these injustices of old that continue through to today.  Fasting and lament have their place, but they will move the Divine no more than they will change society.  We need a national time not just of truth and reconciliation, but of restoration and reparations.  Our High Holy Days call us to turn from our evil ways.  It is time for all of us to act.  It is time for all of us to help turn our nation from its inarguably racist path towards a future of true liberty and justice for all.


Rabbi Seth M. Limmer serves as Senior Rabbi of Chicago Sinai Congregation, and also as a Member of the CCAR Board of Trustees.  Together with Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, he is editor of
Moral Resistance and Spiritual Authority: Our Jewish Obligation to Justice, available from CCAR Press.

Categories
High Holy Days

Who Shall Live and Who Shall Die

Who shall live and who shall die…
Who shall perish by water and who by fire…

The Unetaneh Tokef – Rosh Hashanah’s central prayer – is truly terrifying and disturbing.  It tells us that next year at this time, some of us will be gone via a series of dreadful possibilities: floods, fires, illnesses and the like. God issues this decree from high above, sitting on a throne of judgement. Our behavior determines our fate according to the biblical and rabbinic system of reward and punishment. Not only does the prayer arouse people’s fear of dying, it adds a layer of blame and shame, suggesting that our illnesses and losses are deserved and self-inflicted. For this reason, I used to much prefer the interpretive versions by Jack Riemer and Stanley Rabinowitz. They transform the prayer into a psychological reckoning. For example, rather than “Who shall live and who shall die,” Rabinowitz’s version offers “Who shall be truly alive, and who shall merely exist.[1]

These interpretive efforts are much more in line with my theology. I do not believe in the kind of God who metes out our fate according to strict rules of justice. Indeed, I am not even certain the Bible believes in that kind of God. For example, the book of Job is a powerful challenge to that theology. As the story goes, Job is righteous and good, he loves and praises God even when everything is taken from him. However, Job suffers unfairly, not because he deserves it, but because God has made a bet with Ha-Satan, the Prosecuting Angel. Presumably, the rabbis included Job in the Bible because they realized that the world does not work like clockwork — and neither does God.

So it is no doubt surprising that I have come to value the prayer in its original. I appreciate it because it lends itself to multiple interpretations. If you believe in reward and punishment, you can read the prayer that way. If you prefer a psychological understanding of how our attitude affects our lives, that is an option. And the prayer gives expression to a reality we are forced to face, often regardless of our intentions and our behavior: the fact that some of us won’t be here next year or will be struck by heartache. Some will die of old age; some will become ill; some will lose homes to fires; some will lose loved ones to floods. These are life events over which we have limited control. And God is not necessarily responsible for them.

The question we must really ask is: How will we respond? The concluding verse of the Unetaneh Tokef suggests: U’t’shuvah, u’filah, u’tzedakah, ma-avirin et roa ha-gezera, “Repentance (return), prayer, and righteousness will mitigate the harshness of the decree.” A beautiful way to understand how this works is offered by Rabbi Helen Plotkin:

Teshuvah—repentence (sic), response, return—is the ability to move, to change course, to come back to center, to reconcile.

Tefillah—prayer—is the ability to let the world take your breath away, to hold onto and to articulate gratitude, hope, and awe.

Tzedakah—righteousness—is the ability to pursue justice and to act from a fountain of generosity.[2]

If we follow these practices, our lives will be richer and more rewarding, despite tragedies and setbacks. Wishing you all a shanah tovah u’metukah – a happy and sweet New Year.


Rabbi Suzanne Singer serves Temple Beth El in Riverside, CA. She is also a member of the Reform movement of Judaism’s Commission on Social Action as well as on the Leadership Team of California’s Religious Action Center.


[1] Adapted, in David Teutsch, ed., Kol Haneshamah: Prayerbook for the Days of Awe, Elkins Park, PA: The Reconstructionist Press, 1999, p. 345,
[2] https://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-life-and-religion/142538/unetanah-tokef

Categories
High Holy Days

What We Do Matters and it is Good for the Soul

“The High Holy Days are upon us.  The High Holy Days are upon us!”  Shouts Paul Revere –stein.   Behold the miracle of the Almighty!  They are either early or late… but somehow never on time!  A miracle of Jewish time.  Or how we count Jewish time.   

We who live in two worlds.  Much of our life is spent in our secular universes. We earn a living. We raise a family. We tend to the every day challenges of life-health, bills, a hobby or two. And yet, there is another world.  A world which you to be as integrated into our life as the ubiquitous cell phones are today. As we peer addicted-ly at our phones and onto the world wide web for the answers to our everyday questions. Answers to riddles that come up? Who won the super bowl in 1986? (Answer: Chicago Bears). Who stared in the original Star Is Born? (Answer: Janet Gaynor and Frederic March.) The internet has become our new Torah.

But we know in our heart of hearts, it is soul less. 

We may be addicted to our selfies. But we are Jews, gosh darn it. And we must try, with all of our might and all of our soul to capture “Soul-fies.”  

What is it that captures our hearts and our souls? What is important. We can name a lot of things. But the proof in part of the response is that we are here are we not because we wish to take a “soul-fie.”  Because we know deep down that the answers to life’s questions can not all be found on the world wide web, they are found in the endless learning of Torah, and the eternal values of our people.

Our torah portion, Ki Tavo is a harsh one. Full of warnings of terrible things…illness, famine, poverty…evils that will befall the Israelites if they abandon God’s commandments.

Like Charlie Brown trying to kick the football, our desire to do good things, seemed to be snatched from us and we fall on our “tuchus.”   Like a bad diet we quit way too early at the first temptation of celestial chocolate.   

No one said reaching the promised land would be easy.   

No one said running a Temple would be easy.    

It is not.  It is easy to take short cuts.  It is easy to take a short view.   It is much harder to take the long view.  To understand the importance of laying the foundation for a strong board; a vibrant Temple; nurturing a culture of giving;   It is all too easy to take for granted that which others would be amazed at programmatically.  To live in fear of the unknown– money, membership, keeping the “Israelites” happy.

Moses endured it for 40 years.  Most of you have a two year term or four.   And the burden is sometimes heavy.  Because we aim to please.  And we know deep down it is important.  For our community.  And yes, dare I say it, for our souls.   

We are here not just because we care.  We do.  Not just because we have a fiduciary responsibility to secure the integrity of the Temple.  We do.  We are here because we want to be part of a process that truly matters.  It matters what we decide.  It matters to us, to our community, and to the future of our faith. 

OMG.  When you put it that way rabbi, I am not sure that’s really what I wanted to sign up for!  

And yet. We all did. Because unlike a business which produces a specific product.  We are a sacred community and everyone here are levites in service to God. And our product is not a widget.  Or a better mouse trap.  Or a car.  Or a cell phone.  Our product, pardon the term, is producing Jews.   

And we understand that this matters. It matters to us.  It matters to the world.  It matters to all that we stand for deep down. And when we come here to take our “soulfies” we hope to capture now and always the sacred, special and awesomeness of this task.  

And yes, Dear God, that is what we have signed up for.   And it ain’t easy.   But this task is all of ours.   And it does both drain, and fill our souls.  

Both can be true. May this be our blessing.  Indeed, may this be our blessing.  Amen.


Rabbi Sanford Akselrad serves Congregation Ner Tamid in Henderson, Nevada. Rabbi Akselrad wishes to thank Rabbi Naomi Levy for her inspiration on the concept of “soul-fies.” 

Categories
Books

Written in “Just Five Minutes”

A reflection by Rabbi Barry H. Block on working through Opening Your Heart with Psalm 27: A Spiritual Practice for the Jewish New Year, by Rabbi Debra Robbins, CCAR Press, 2019.

Debbie Robbins says:
“Just five minutes.”
Set aside five minutes,
No more,
To write my Elul reflections each day.
Much to my surprise,
I’ve disciplined myself to do it,
Just five minutes,
Every day.
Some days, I really need it,
Like the day that a traumatic pastoral need
Led me to extreme anxiety,
And I needed to figure out why.
Every day, I really need it.
As a rabbi,
My Elul preparation
Is all about writing sermons,
Musical cues,
Selecting reading,
Doling out honors,
All “work.”
I’m liable to ignore the inner, spiritual work of Elul;
There’s so much “rabbi work” to do.
And so I’ve resolved:
Take those five minutes a day,
And actually prepare my soul
For 5780.
Psalm 27 has opened my heart.
Funny thing:
For the first time,
Ever in my 29th year,
And that’s only since ordination,
All of my sermons are drafted—
Not “finished,” but fully drafted—
More than two weeks before Erev Rosh Hashanah.
Can that be a coincidence?


Rabbi Barry Block serves Congregation B’nai Israel in Little Rock, Arkansas.  Opening Your Heart with Psalm 27: A Spiritual Practice for the Jewish New Year is now available from CCAR Press.

Categories
High Holy Days Holiday

Going Beyond the Shanah Tovah Email

I miss Rosh Hashanah cards.  They used to begin arriving in my mail box about three weeks before Rosh Hashanah.  Sometimes I knew I was one name on a list of thousands.  Other cards were a message from a great aunt or a member of my community who wanted to tell me something personal.  I always felt a bit ashamed of this enjoyment because I have never sent cards at the New Year.  To have one more thing to do, one more list to compile, seemed way beyond my practical and emotional capacity at this time of year.   But I looked forward to receiving them, and then hanging them as the major form of decoration in the Sukkah.

Now I receive New Year’s greetings in the form of emails.  I deeply appreciate that emails are significantly better for the very world whose creation we celebrate on Rosh Hashanah.  Still, receiving a greeting in an email has a different flavor.   It lacks the distinctive signature, the feel and texture of the paper, the option to place it where it can be seen as a small connection to the broader circle of Jews ushering in a New Year. An email is transient and ephemeral, gone when the delete button is pushed.  In an in-box that is too often overflowing, somehow the greeting becomes just one more thing to click on, one more item to get through.

I know that my feeling is not about cards vs. email.  It’s about connection.  While there is shared commiseration on Facebook about sermons not yet written and the challenge of finding just the right story, for those who are leading services there is an element of loneliness in the work we do this time of year.  The decision about what our particular community needs to hear from the pulpit rests with each individual rabbi.  Are there consequences in my particular location and community if I say something that may be controversial or unpopular?   Sitting in front of a blinking cursor, an open machzor is a solitary task.

We hold personal burdens as well, burdens that are not so easy to talk about with each other.  Is my rabbinic leadership being evaluated based on my Kol Nidrei sermon or the perceived ‘quality’ of the worship?  Is my authenticity lessened when I preach about spiritual preparation and can’t seem to make the time for my own Elul introspection?   What do I do with the guilt I carry about the impact this time of year has on my family?

We may face many of the same questions, but we do so in our own silos, by ourselves.  This need not be the case.  We know from you that you want to reach out to each other, to help and support, in a way that goes beyond the superficial email.  As a rabbinic community, we can live up to that intention.  Amidst the stress of the season, it’s a blessing to hear the voice of another rabbi – the rabbi you talked with at convention but haven’t spoken to since, the new colleague who came to town who you don’t really know yet, the classmate you haven’t seen in a year, a friend.  The nourishment that occurs of those moments of relationship is a way to prepare for the sacred days that lie ahead.  You can’t hang a phone call in a sukkah, but the connection will stay with you long after the sukkah has come down.

Rabbi Betsy Torop is the Director of Rabbinic Engagement and Growth for the Central Conference of American Rabbis. 

Categories
High Holy Days News

Creation: Fed up with Tohu

I am honored and excited to be the new editor at the CCAR Press. Under the leadership of Rabbi Hara Person, I will be listening to your ideas, reading what your write, and working with you to create books, apps, and online learning opportunities!

Think about me as your editor, liturgist, and teacher.

As I did for the last six years, I will spend the upcoming High Holidays at a JCC in Chevy Chase-Bethesda, Maryland, where I work as a cantorial soloist. Each year, I deliver the sermon on Erev Rosh haShanah. This is a snippet of the (oh, too many words) I am going to share on that Bimah:

 

I, personally, try to laugh that laughter more often these days. It’s a laughter that is forgiving towards myself, towards the human beings around me, and towards this entire mess of our chaotic world. I try to internalize that all we have is a little Torah (a book written after all,  on the skin of a dead cow) in order to help us figure out together the nature of this mystical creation, and write together the Torah of our lives, Torat Hayim, the Torah of Life, a living Torah.

In other moments, I, like so many others, grow impatient, and then I write poems (S. Pilz (2018): Creation. Unpublished.) like this one:

Creation: Fed up with Tohu

What if in the beginning
Something did get consumed?
With black coal a universe got written
Dancing, twisting, whimpering, crawling,
What if in the beginning,
Something was broken.

You and I, we shine together.

What if we were to learn
How to calmly tame our fire?
Will we then crush gently,
And rise,
With a kiss?

 

Most of our time on earth, it seems to me, gets spent trying to figure out how to live this life right here and now. We are getting used to ourselves and to others. We build relationships, co-creating our own entire little universes. This way, all of us re-create and change the world in every single second. This, now, is a moment when the world gets re-created by us. And now. At every single moment of our lives.

And in these moments, as all of us are sitting here together, creating a universe of prayer, Torah, singing, learning, the order of prayer, reflection, and beauty, I want to share yet another poem with you, a second poem by the American writer Mary Oliver (M. Oliver (1992): New and Selected Poems, from “The Summer Day”, p. 94.) who wrote the poem with which I opened my sermon:

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?

Rabbi Sonja K. Pilz earned a doctorate from the department of Rabbinic Literature at Potsdam University, Germany; she holds Rabbinic Ordination from Abraham Geiger College, Germany. Prior to joining the CCAR Press as editor, Sonja taught Jewish liturgy, worship, and ritual at HUC-JIR, NY; the School of Jewish Theology at Potsdam University; and in many congregational settings. She served as a visiting rabbi and cantorial soloist in congregations in Germany, Switzerland, Israel, and the US.

Categories
High Holy Days Prayer

“Gates” as an Enduring Metaphor

At Neilah, the closing service at the end of Yom Kippur, we imagine ourselves standing at the gates of heaven, urgently pleading for forgiveness until the final second of the day expires and the gates close.

The moment is one of great solemnity. We cry out: “Open a gate for us when the gates are being closed, for the day is about to fade” (Mishkan HaNefesh, Yom Kippur, p640). This is it. A last chance to plead our case.

Each year, surrounded by hundreds of congregants, in the urgency of prayer, I imagine myself standing alone at an ancient stone wall. There are two large wooden gates with iron adornments. One of the gates is already closed, the other slowly closing by an unseen force. They look more like the outer gates of a city than the gates of a castle. My prayer enters through these gates. The day fades. The shofar blows. I haven’t passed through the gates, but I haven’t walked away, either.

In this visualization of the metaphor, there’s a gate for each of us. Each gate is different. It’s the gate created by our own triumphs and our own challenges, our own misdeeds and our own acts of tikkun olam. In this version of the metaphor, each year the gate is different, shaped by our lives over the past 12 months.

We are, in truth, always standing at the gates of heaven. In each moment, we have the chance to build or destroy, to love or to withhold love, to bless or to curse, to be brave or to live in fear. Each moment is both a barrier and a portal.

This is what makes “gates” an enduring metaphor. The metaphor is potent with possibility. It’s a reminder of the challenges ahead.

As the sun fades, as darkness sets in, we pray one final viduii, one last confessional before that closing blast of the shofar. Then it is time to go back into the world, renewed and refreshed with the blessing of forgiveness.

Repentance Inside
This I confess:
I have taken my transgressions with me,
Carrying them year by year into my hours and days,
My lapses of conscience
And indiscretion with words,
My petty judgments
And my vanity,
Clinging to grief and fear, anger and shame,
Clinging to excuses and to old habits.
I’ve felt the light of heaven,
Signs and wonders in my own life,
And still will not surrender to holiness and light.

God of redemption,
With Your loving and guiding hand
Repentance in prayer is easy.
Repentance inside,
Leaving my faults and offenses behind,
Is a struggle.
In Your wisdom You have given me this choice:
To live today as I lived yesterday,
Or to set my life free to love You,
To love Your people,
And to love myself.

God of forgiveness, help me to leave my transgressions behind,
To hear Your voice,
To accept Your guidance,
And to see the miracles in each new day.

Blessed are You,
God of justice and mercy,
You who sets Your people on the road to t’shuvah.

Alden Solovy is a liturgist, author, journalist, and teacher.  His work has appeared in Mishkan R’Fuah: Where Healing Resides (CCAR Press, 2012), L’chol Z’man v’Eit: For Sacred Moments (CCAR Press, 2015), Mishkan HaNefesh: Machzor for the Days of Awe (CCAR Press, 2015), and Gates of Shabbat, Revised Edition (CCAR Press, 2016). He is the author of This Grateful Heart: Psalms and Prayers for a New Day  (CCAR Press, 2017) and This Joyous Soul: A New Voice for Ancient Yearnings, now available for pre-order from CCAR Press.

Repentance Inside is reprinted with permission from This Grateful Heart: Psalms and Prayers for a New Day © 2017 CCAR Press