The Gates are Closing

The Gates are Closing

Retold by Rabbi Pamela Frydman[1]

(This talk is also linked to the website of Congregation P’nai Tikvah.)

With our prayer books open to the Amidah for Ne’ilah, I want to share the following story:

About 200 years ago, there was a Rabbi named Volker. Rabbi Volker was a Torah scholar and a mystic and he also had a vivid imagination. One night, Rabbi Volker had a dream. He dreamed that he was sent by the sages of his generation to create a map of heaven. In Rabbi Volker’s dream, he was immediately transported to heaven where he was met by an angel who wore a badge that said in Hebrew Sar HaTayarut, Minister of Tourism. Rabbi Volker explained his mission to the Minister of Tourism of Heaven and the Minister of Tourism said, “Yes, we know. We were expecting you.”

The Minister of Tourism proceeded to give Rabbi Volker his own personal tour of heaven. They went through every chamber and every nook and cranny until they came to a closed door with a guardian angel standing in front of it. Rabbi Volker noticed that the guardian angel had a tear in its eye. “Why the sadness?” asked Rabbi Volker.

“This is the saddest room in all of heaven,” said the Minister of Tourism. “Whoever guards this room cries all the time, and anyone who enters is sad from then on.”

“Well, I must see this room,” said Rabbi Volker. “and I must learn about it so I can add it to my map of heaven.”

“No,” said the Minister of Tourism. “There is no way we can let you see this room. If you enter this room, you will be sad for the rest of your life and beyond. We cannot allow it.”

Rabbi Volker begged and pleaded with all his might. He said, “Look, I must see this room so I can depict it on the map of heaven that I will bring to my colleagues, who are the sages of my generation. I cannot just skip this room because of sadness. I cannot skip this room because of anything. I cannot return to my earthly life without mapping out this room. Please, please, let me enter and see it.”

The angels debated the matter thoroughly, and in the end, they decided to grant Rabbi Volker his wish.

“Ok,” said the Minister of Tourism to Rabbi Volker. “We are going to let you see the room, but I must warn you once again that you will be sad, tragically sad, from now on.”

“I understand,” said Rabbi Volker, “but I must see this room. I cannot complete my map of heaven without seeing this room.”

The guardian angel used the key to unlock the door. The Minister of Tourism opened the door and Rabbi Volker entered the room, followed by the guardian angel and the Minister of Tourism.

Rabbi Volker looked all around and he saw that the room was filled with shelves that extended from the floor to the very high ceiling. The shelves were lined with packages. Each package was carefully wrapped and had a label. The labels had names written on them and they even had addresses. Rabbi Volker began reading the names on the packages. He recognized one or two of the names and then he said, “I don’t understand. This looks like the back room of a post office. I don’t see what is so sad about this.”

The guardian angel and the Minister of Tourism were both sobbing uncontrollably. Through their sobs, the guardian angel exclaimed, “this is the room of almost answered prayers. Every package contains the fulfillment of a prayer of someone who has prayed and prayed and prayed again. But the person gave up just before we could deliver the package. G-o-d gave permission for the fulfillment of these prayers. And there were enough prayers to wrap the fulfillments and to place the name and address on the package. But just then, the person gave up, thinking that his or her prayer would not be answered, because the answer had not yet arrived.”

“We cannot deliver these gifts,” exclaimed the Minister of Tourism between sobs. “In order for us to deliver these gifts, the worshipper would need to pray just one more time, but they don’t pray for this gift anymore because they have given up. This is what it is so sad.”

Rabbi Volker awoke in his bed. He was sweating profusely from the torment of his grief. He dressed quickly and went to the synagogue. He opened the ark and stood before the Torah scrolls and prayed.

We are now in the service called Ne’ilah. This is the service when the gates are metaphorically locked. Not literally locked. The gates of heaven are never literally locked. We always have a chance to turn our hearts to G-o-d, to ask for forgiveness, or to forgive others, or to ask for the fond wishes of our hearts. We just have to believe that it is possible, so we can keep praying instead of giving up.

Now is the time for the last silent Amidah of Yom Kippur, the Amidah of Ne’ilah. Please use your time well.

[1] Based on a story told by my friend and teacher Reb Mimi Feigelson. Reb Mimi learned the story from Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach z”l. Reb Mimi believes that Reb Shlomo learned the story from the Karliner Rebbe.