Sunday, October 1, 2017

Another post-Ne'ilah post: "Ne'ilah"

Last year at this time, I posted a thought about the final prayers of Yom Kippur, the Ne'ilah service. I focused, through the lens of bosh and piffle, about how the service should not be seen as an end, but a beginning of a journey, and that the name of the service refers to shoes, which we must don in order to make that journey of improvement.

Far be it from me to cast aspersions on my own genius, but this year, I have been inspired with some loftier thoughts regarding the service. Allow me to explain.

As stated last year, the Ne'ilah service is not about an ending. And yet, most of the speeches I hear are all filled with analogies about beating deadlines -- the final 2 minutes of a football game, the sirens rushing to an accident, the paper that has to be submitted. This is, even though the gates don't actually close. The "slips" which have our verdict are not handed down until the end of Sukkot. Even then, we say in the thrice daily weekday prayers a blessing about repentance and forgiveness, and have the prayer of tachanun which includes confession. If the gates were closed then prayer the rest of the year would be ineffectual and useless!

So what changes at the close of the Ne'ilah prayer that makes it so important that we focus? (and no fair saying "we do" because we hope to change for the better all the time). The answer seems insignificant -- some subtle liturgical wordings. For the last 10 days we have been shifting the text of certain prayers to focus on God's kingship and this stress ends right after Ne'ilah ends. Ne'ilah is the last chance to address that element of God's character explicitly and that's the rush.

There is, in my mind, a difference between talking about a king, and talking to the king. In both cases, there is reverence, but in the latter, we have reached a level of importance, we have risen high enough in stature, that we can look to the king directly and make our requests; instead of saying "the king is really mighty and powerful, and he has the power to save me" we can say "Hey, king, please save me." We are in his presence, by his throne and that s about to end.

So then why "Ne'ilah"? I looked at the word with my 24-hours-into-the-fast eyes and I saw a different word that shares most of the letters -- na'aleh. We will rise up. Rising is a concept that appears elsewhere in our prayers during the year and, in fact, in the Yom Kippur prayers -- in fact, in the evening service at the beginning of Yom Kippur, we, full of fear and hope, begin the supplications with a liturgical poem beginning with the word "ya'aleh" (it will rise up). We want our prayers to rise up. But by the end of the day, we hope that we, ourselves, will rise up. We are at the throne and want to be able to rise up and address the king one last time, and, somehow, we want to be granted the privilege of staying on that level, having that "aliyah" become permanent so we can speak to "hamelech" the king, all the time.

May we all have that aliyah, that rising up this year, in the merit of the prayers which we offered fervently yesterday, and which we will continue to offer throughout the year.

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