Last year at this time, I wrote to you about the power of Neilah – the final service on Yom Kippur. I explained that these are the final moments before the Gates of Repentance close (which leads us to the term Neilah, meaning “locking”).
It is such an intense moment… the congregation stands, the ark remains open for the last several prayers. We begin with the Amidah, we move towards Avinu Malkeinu, we remain standing for yet another confession (Vidui), recite prayers reflecting the fragility of life and how God is a God of forgiveness and mercy, yearning for us to return to The Holy One/HaKadosh Baruch Hu.
There are some of us who feel like we need to stretch to make it through those gates.
This year at this service, I am going to invite – for those who choose – anyone to ascend the bimah while the ark is open to stand before the open ark and offer their own personal, silent prayer. As the gates begin to close, some of us might need to express something that can’t be spoken at other times. Others might want the opportunity to come as close as one physically can to God’s Presence hovering over us on such a day. Whatever one might need, this is our chance to express our deepest prayers and feelings before our most sacred space at our most sacred time.
I know some of us might be concerned about walking about or sitting while the ark is opened. Yet, the Shulcahn Aruch, the most widely accepted Code of Jewish Law, gives us the halachah (classic Jewish law) on the issue. It says that one is to stand when a Torah scroll is in motion (Yoreh Deah 282.2), not just when the ark is open. To give an illustration, we stand for Kol Nidre not because the ark is opened, but because the Sifrei Torah are being held before us and those people are standing. When the Torah is amongst us and it is resting or someone who is holding it is sitting, then we sit, too.
As we continue with our service, while sitting or standing, the ark will remain open and you can respectfully come to share your private prayer before God. You can come yourself. You can come with a loved one or your family. Each of us can take some time to pray.
May the Holy One of Blessing continue to hear our prayers, and may we be willing to share the prayers of our hearts.
From my family to yours, from our synagogue leadership to all of you, may the New Year be a sweet, happy, and healthy one for you and yours.