October 12, 2016
Rabbi Batsheva Appel
You might remember a famous skit from Saturday Night Live that is now almost 30 years old. A man is sitting in an office and receiving a call, realizes that he missed a deadline and things are dire. He immediately finishes the project that is needed and goes to Einstein Express. Their claim is that “Using a patented superconductor matrix, coupled with Einstein's theory of space-time continuum, we can transport any document or package up to ten pounds into the past.” The package is sent three days back into the past and the man’s job is saved. It ends with the tagline: “Einstein Express. When it absolutely, positively, has to be there the day before yesterday.”
Deadlines. As we begin the Ne’ilah service, we are facing the deadline of the end of Yom Kippur, the end of this 25 hours of repentance and atonement. There is just a little bit of time left to get our final prayers for the day in. As Rabbi Cohon noted last night, we cannot go back in time to redo this year, this month, this 10 days since Rosh Hashanah, or even to last night – the weight limit for Einstein Express is 10 pounds after all. We reach the service of Ne’ilah knowing that we are at the deadline.
The word Ne’ilah means locking, and refers to the time of the locking of the gates of the Temple in Jerusalem, at dusk. Thinking of the gates closing, of being locked out, makes the deadline we face seem more real, more final. Could we really miss this deadline? Be closed out? After throwing ourselves into this?
In addition to doubt & worry, our moods for Ne’ilah encompass the highs and lows. We are even more earnest and more fervent, knowing that this is our final chance to stand in teshuvah and request forgiveness and compassion from God. We know that we will now change the words in our prayers from asking to be inscribed in the Book of Life to asking to be sealed in the Book of Life. The judgement is going to be handed down, there are just minutes left before the deadline, the window of time for any changes in the sentence to be granted is growing shorter. We are giddy and excited after spending a day fasting, feeling lighter somehow as we stand for this final service. We are fatigued, exhausted by the long day. And we press on to finish our teshuvah, our turning in repentance before the locking of the gates, before the deadline.
From a poem on repentance by Robin Becker:
Turn from evil and do good the Psalmist says turning
Round the turn turn the key clock the turn turn in time
Time to turn words into footsteps to lead the young colt to the field
To turn from the old year the old self You are ready
To turn and be healed only face only begin
[ii] Excerpted from “In the Days of Awe” by Robin Becker