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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The gates of repentance are always open......

Our sages taught:

R. Helbo asked R. Samuel bar Nahman: "Since I have heard that you are a master of Aggadah (Jewish folklore tradition), tell me what is meant by the verse, 'You have covered yourself with a cloud so that no prayer can pass through [Lamentations 3:44]?' "

R. Samuel answered: "Prayer is similar to a pool, but repentance is similar to the sea. Just as a pool is at times open and at other times locked, so the gates of prayer are at times open and at other times locked. But the sea is always open, and so, too, are the gates of repentance always open [Lamentations Rabbah 3:43, section 9]."

The gates of prayer are sometimes open, and at other times locked.  Far too often, they feel locked, closed, ominous and foreboding. We realize how difficult true prayer can be, and thus, we simply turn away and avoid it entirely.  

People are often too polite to say it out loud.  Instead, we vote with our feet.  Prayer is hard, inconvenient, difficult to fathom, the enterprises of communal worship and individual meditation and prayer pose challenges to us and so we often say, "That's good enough" and we stay home.  Or if we come to be with others in prayer and worship, we go through the motions, we come to be seen, we sit respectfully and turn the pages, counting how many more pages there are left before the end of the service. 

These approaching High Holidays present us a laboratory to approach this task with renewed attention and awareness.  Instead of coming to pray with resentment, resignation or doubt, what if we approached our prayers with hope?  What if we came to be with our community, our tradition, our faith and our doubt, and to find new meaning, new insights and new commitment.  What if we sat down and really read the words, really listened to the music, really sang the songs, really learned the Torah, really heard the messages being directed at us.  What if we were fully present?

After all, the gates of prayer may or may not be open, but the gates of repentance are always open.  It is never too late.  

In just a few hours, the New Year, 5775, will begin.  If we listen closely enough, we may hear the creaking sound of the gates.  Some say this is the gates of prayer and repentance beginning to close.  But I don't think that is the case at all.  After all, the rabbis said the gates of repentance are always open.  In fact, I think that sound we may hear is the rusty hinges opening wider, allowing all of us to feel invited to pass through and find blessing. 

The name of our congregation is "Shaare Emeth," a form of "Shaarei Emet" which means the "Gates of Truth."  And the truth is that we are all always welcome to pass through the gates of the new year, the gates of every day, the gates of joy and blessing and health and peace.  

Shanah Tovah - may this be a a truly good year.

Rabbi Jim Bennett
29 Elul 5774

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