My cousin recently sent me a picture she snapped from an elevator in Manhattan. She noticed that on the panel of buttons the "Door Closed" button had been worn down from years of riders pushing it in a rush to get to their appointments. In contrast, the "Door Open" button looked as good as new. My cousin commented, "there's gotta be a sermon in this..." I think she's right. It seems we're far more anxious to close doors than to open them.
The metaphor of open and closed doors is a motif of the High Holy Day season. We imagine that the gates of heaven are open to our prayers and repentance. For example, the closing service of Yom Kippur is called "Neilah - locking." We imagine that the gates which have been open to us for the 25-hour period of Yom Kippur are about to be locked. Many communities (I'm told including CAI) have a custom of approaching the open ark for a personal moment of prayer. The ark is like a portal to the heavenly realms and is held open as people get in those final petitions before the day is done. It is a powerful moment for many as they feel a sense of urgency in their prayers.
One of my favorite piyyutim (liturgical poems) in the mahzor begins:
"P'tah lanu sha'ar - open a gate for us at the hour of the locking of the gate, for the day is turning."
It's unclear in the poem whether the "gate" is meant to be a metaphor for access to God or an opening of the passageways of our heart to resolve to change, grow, heal, and love.
On Hoshanah Rabbah - the final day of sukkot, meant to be a coda to the High Holy Day season - there is a Yiddish greeting, "a gut kvittel," which means, "a good note." Even though the gates were locked at the end of Yom Kippur, our hope is that we can still slide one more note under the locked gate with hopes for a good year.
All of this imagery is meant to impress upon us the importance of keeping the door open - to God, repentance, and to one another.
As we prepare to spend hours in synagogue together on Yom Kippur, my prayer for all of us is that we seize the opportunity that an open gate offers us. May we have the courage and honesty to pray with humility and contrition. May we resolve to be the kind of people who strive to open more doors than we close in the year to come - doors
of relationship and caring; doors of new opportunity and adventure. May all the doors of this world and the heavenly realms be open to you, and may you have the courage to walk through boldly into the new year.