September 23, 2015
Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon
Temple Emanu-El, Tucson, Arizona
My favorite High Holy Day quotation of all time comes from that great font of Jewish knowledge, Charles Schultz’s cartoon “Peanuts”. Charlie Brown, the every-man nebbish, says “Sometimes I lie awake at night and ask where have I gone wrong?” And then a voice comes and says to me, “This is going to take more then one night.”
Teshuvah is like that. We repent, and repent, and repent, not only one night but the following morning and afternoon and into the evening, one whole long day. And yet still, in our hearts, we have the sense that remaking ourselves might just take more than this single Day of Atonement.
But on the other hand, as Tevyeh used to say, maybe not. Maybe this will prove to be enough… if the conditions are just right. If we have gone our very best to atone for our sins. If we have apologized to all of those we have wronged. If our hearts are open, our defenses down, our awareness of God and the sanctity possible in this world heightened. If we have come to know our own failings and repent them and seek to return to what is sacred and best within ourselves. Then, maybe, this Yom Kippur will prove to be enough.
After all, we have been at it now for nearly 24 hours, since we began Kol Nidrei last night. By this time we have probably apologized for sins we didn’t even dream of committing…
Now we come to Ne’ilah. Ne’ilah is a unique time. According to the tradition, this is time on Yom Kippur, on the Day of Atonement when the very gates of repentance are beginning to close. Ne’ilah in Hebrew means the “locking of the gates”, and as the Book of Life is sealed, the gates of repentance, too, are locked. This is the time for our final appeal to our Creator, and to ourselves, to live a better life in 5776 than we managed to achieve in 5775. It is our last hurrah, our final curtain, the fading rays of the sun on this day of fasting, penance, and prayer. To paraphrase an old cliché, if the opera isn’t over until the fat lady sings, Yom Kippur isn’t over until the gates are locked.