The Gates of Heaven Trembled

September 30, 20170 Comments


Picture this: We are in the final moments of Yom Kippur. I am standing in front of the open ark, which is brightly lit, and the Torahs are dressed in white, as is the congregation. The sun is almost setting. I am singing about the Gates of Heaven closing, imploring the Holy Blessing One to keep the gate open for us. With beautiful poetic liturgy, I plead on behalf of the congregation for compassion, using melodies that are deep in my bones from over 22 years in my cantorate. My Rabbi invites the congregation to come up one at a time if they choose, to stand in front of the ark and offer their silent prayers while I am singing. Last year, they did so and stood on either side of me in front of the ark. My view then was only of the ark and the Torahs. This year, the Rabbi quietly asks me to step back behind the podium to allow our community to have their own personal time in front of the ark. Now when I raise my eyes from my prayer book to look at the ark, my perspective has changed. In front and center of me, I see the back of each person silhouetted from the light of the ark. I feel my heart lurch and my voice crack, and tears sting my eyes. I try desperately to keep my composure. The sun is setting; I see the light dim through the stained glass windows behind the ark. I am singing about the sun setting. Tired, hungry, and thirsty, having stood on the pulpit singing since 8:45 am that morning, I am amazed I still have fluid in my body. Not much longer to go now. I keep singing and praying, moved by the words, moved by what is happening in this sacred space. And then – then, a young grandmother comes up to the pulpit with her grown son who is now a Rabbinic Intern in this congregation. I remember her as a young mother; I remember teaching him for his bar mitzvah. Between them, they hold his four-month-old baby girl, arms interlocked, and I see their silhouettes. I am no longer able to hold back my tears. Here, right in front of me, stands the past, the present, and the future. Tears are pouring down my face now as I continue to pray aloud and hold the melody. Yet there is a cry in my voice. I cannot hold back the cry in my voice, and I keep singing. And then – then my own son comes up to the ark with his young wife. With their backs to me, I see him put his arm around her and wrap her with him in his prayer shawl. I am already wide open and raw. Now my soul is no longer contained by the boundary of my body, I allow whatever is happening to happen. What felt to me like frightening vulnerability is now transformed into awe. There is an energy in the sanctuary that is palpable. I realize that the cry in my voice that I tried so hard to control, far from being weak in its vulnerability, is actually its greatest power and connection to something far larger than I.

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