When the Gates are Closing

By Rabbi Rebecca Rosenthal
One thing many people don’t know about me is that I often wait until the last minute to get things done. When I have a deadline, I think about what needs to be done, I outline it in my head and try to go through all the pitfalls, but when it comes to actually doing the thing, whether it be writing a d’var Torah or a project for work, it takes me until almost the last minute to get it out.

Perhaps that is why Ne’ilah appeals to me. Ne’ilah is Yom Kippur’s last moment to get it all out. All the chest-beating, reflection, singing, imploring, and beseeching culminate in this moment where we express our sincere dedication to the task of forgiving and being forgiven. If I have done Yom Kippur right, there is a burst of energy that comes at Ne’ilah, with the knowledge that the gates are about to close. The exhaustion and the hunger abate for moment, allowing me to dig deeply and find what I need to make it to the end. Ne’ilah is the one moment between when our slate is wiped clean and when our humanity, the good and the bad, creeps back in and for a moment, the spiritual intensity overtakes the hunger.

But Ne’ilah at BJ also holds so many special memories for me. When I was a child (and there weren’t that many of us) we used to march in at the end of the service, with the lights off, carrying real candles, signaling to the community that the time for Havdalah had arrived. Once I got older and became a children’s service leader, standing by the open doors – waiting for Ari’s voice to call out “Adonai Hu HaElohim” over and over again, surrounded by giddy children and exhausted parents – always brought tears to my eyes, brought on both by the intensity and finality of the moment. And now, as a parent, taking my children on that walk in the dark, holding our electric candles, reminds me that the cycle of years, of holidays, and of forgiveness, is never really complete, but if we are lucky, we will have the opportunity to try again in the coming year.

About Rabbi Rebecca Rosenthal

Rabbi Rosenthal has been a member of BJ since she was a child and now attends with her own family. She is the Director of Education at Central Synagogue.