*the Drash I Delivered before Ne’ilah on Yom Kippur to the PicoEgal Minyan. This is not at all how it came out of my mouth*
10 days ago Jews sat together as the birth of the world was celebrated. We took joy in the new year, and we were reminded of our mortality. In just the last 10 days we’ve seen who will live and who will die, who by water- the floods in the South East and who by fire. Our mortality is known, God is judge. We may not have begun the act of teshuva of asking for forgiveness 10 days ago, some of us are planners, some of us began working on the journey of asking for forgiveness long before Rosh HaShannah. And others in this room might be procrastinators, trying to get it all in right now, in this last service before the book of life and to quote reb mimi the book of not so much are sealed. Some of us fall in between. Wherever we fall on the spectrum, we’ve made it here to this moment.
We have this feeling of accomplishment, We’ve made it, we’re almost there. As a child, I remember coming to services for Neilah, there were no children’s services, everyone was in this serious, sort of loopy mood with the affects of the fast weighing heavily on their bodies. I remember my mom and dad talking about standing for an hour, how they dread it every year. My grandparents, sat down while the ark was open, something I’d never seen. And all I wanted to do was wait for Havdallah when I would get my glowstick and get to play on the Bimah.
It was very easy for my parents, who had been fasting all day to focus on the pain of Neilah, the need to stand for what feels like forever. It is easy for us to want to really get through Neilah, we’ve spent the day beating our chests, standing, sitting, reflecting, we’re done. Our mind starts to wander; our feet might hurt, our tummy’s are rumbling, we’re tired, and rightfully so. The challenge is to stay focused.
It says in the talmud, Masechet Brachot, at the opening to the fifth perek- Ein Omdin L’hitpalel ela mitoch Koved rosh. One should not stand to pray (usually the Amidah) without Koved Rosh- without proper intention in their mind. The Talmud goes on with a lengthy discussion of what this means, and what each suggestion has in common is that one should not stand to pray without a clear mind. Without the space to have uninterrupted communication with the divine, one should not pray.
The Talmud goes on to have a discussion of what it actually means to have Koved Rosh- some might translate it to mean a heavy head. One can only stand in prayer if their head is burdened, if they feel the weight of their deeds. Others interpret it as having Kavanah, as having the proper intention. As being able to focus your mind solely on the task at hand. Prayer is not something that you can multi-task at. You have to be present.
In a few moments we will open the Aron, as a symbol of the open gates to the Temple and metaphorically, the open heavenly gates. We will speak of God as as Noten Yad Le-Foshe’im the god who spreads our his hand in forgiveness to sinners. A God of forgiveness. When all else fails in the work we do, God will forgive.
We are at the last level, the final push towards really entering a new year with a clean slate. Hopefully we have done the work needed to arrive at this moment of Neilah before the gates have closed and really truly stand as individuals, stand as ourselves in pure concentration, pure meditation on what it means to stand before God.
As we begin to chant the last Amidah of the season of repentance, say that last vidui prayer, I challenge each of us to really stand with Koved Rosh, focus your intention on the process, on the meaning, on the work we’ve done together this last 25 hours.
The challenge is to get over the physical stress and really live in the spiritual challenge of being present. Let us stand here as a community with Koved Rosh, with intention, with focus, with love.