The Jewish Year

Preserving the Impact of the High Holidays

“Does a parent ever turn his back or close the door on his child?” This was the question my husband, shlita, asked our congregation of several hundred mispallelim as we prepared to conclude the Yom Kippur davening. “If mortals—parents of flesh and blood—would never do such a thing, how can it be that our Heavenly Father would close the gates of Heaven on His children?” The question was prompted by the word “Neilah,” the final part of the Yom Kippur service that means “locking,” as evidenced in the liturgy by the passage, “Please, Hashem, open for us a gate, at the time of the locking of the gates.” My husband’s poignant resolution to the question was that it is not Hashem Who locks the gates; rather, we are the ones closing the door on our relationship with Him.

Our appeal to Hashem is that He should not allow us to do so. He noted that this plea is all the more troubling because it comes at the climax of a 25-hour fast, after we have stormed the Heavens with prayer and importuned the Master of the World for atonement. And yet, cleansed of all wrongdoing, we are still keenly aware of the danger that we might close the door on our Maker! The reason is that despite the introspection and soul-searching of the Days of Awe, the very fact that we are human carries with it a certain vulnerability to being reclaimed by our everyday, pedestrian concerns, watching as our inspiration withers and dies. Indeed, we are justly apprehensive that the routines and patterns of our pre-Yom Kippur lives will rear their ugly heads, and regardless of our good intentions, we will be overcome by our past. My husband cited the example of the children of the early Jewish immigrants to this country, those who were heads of families in the 1950s and 1960s, whose observance of Judaism lapsed.

The immigrant grandparents in those families were still faithful to Torah observance, but the children and grandchildren had drifted so far away that many didn’t even have a mezuzah on their doorposts. An ironic anecdote is told from that era about a youngster who spent several weeks with his “religious” grandparents while his parents went on vacation. When they returned to pick him up, he kissed his grandparents and said, “Goodbye, Grandma. Goodbye, Grandpa.” Proceeding to the door he reached up to kiss the mezuzah. His heart-wrenching parting words were, “And goodbye, G-d.” The message to all of us is that we need to enlist Hashem’s assistance that we should not be among those who do the equivalent of kissing the mezuzah while uttering the tragic statement, “Goodbye, G-d.” But how do we maintain the strong and invigorated relationship that was just forged during the Yom Tov season?

My husband suggested that the answer is to make Hashem a real part of our lives and communicate with Him on a personal level, moment to moment. Rather than converse exclusively during the formal davening to which we are accustomed, we should simply talk to Him all day long: “Please, Hashem, let my child do well on the test… Please, Hashem, give me the strength to handle this oppositional child…  Please, Hashem, let my cake rise… Please, Hashem, give me the wisdom to deal with my mother-in-law and her tantrums, or my daughter-in-law and her sensitivities or my contrary friend… Please, Hashem, send a refuah to my loved one.”

No matter is too big or too small to address to our Heavenly Father. The objective is to make Hashem our constant companion. A story is told of a woman who was involved in an intense conversation with Hashem at the Kosel. After a prolonged period of time she was overheard saying, “I’m sorry, G-d, I must be boring You because I realized I already told this to You yesterday.” Clearly, G-d was her personal companion, with Whom she felt comfortable sharing all of her trials, tribulations and concerns. Fostering a connection with Hashem requires awareness and consciousness as we move through our daily existence. “Shivisi Hashem l’negdi samid,” envisioning G-d as always right there means noticing Him in every flower and drop of rain, in the smile of a child, the love of a friend or spouse, and yes, every stubbed toe and difficult challenge.

Our commentaries note that the blasts of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah reference the modality of “thought,” since the emotions and thinking the sounds evoke are internal, personal and unique to every individual. Yom Kippur and its day-long davening correlate to the modality of “speech.” We articulate that which was previously buried in the crucible of thought; our “Viduy” carries the day. Then on Sukkos we bring both the thinking of Rosh Hashanah and the articulation of the words spoken on Yom Kippur to fruition, to the modality of “action,” by the building of the sukkah, the lulav and esrog, and in the times of the Beis Hamikdash, the journey to Yerushalayim and the celebration of Simchas Beis Hasho’eivah. The way to hold on to the impact of these Holy Days is to make sure we don’t lock the gates, and as we return to our “normal” day-to-day lives, consistently say, “Hello, G-d.”

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