What’s the rush to enter the gates of heaven?

The closing service for Yom Kippur is called Neilah. The poems and liturgy of this service reflects the spiritual concept of the closing of the gates of Heaven, which have been kept open to receive our final prayers and supplications.

Some of you might be thinking, there is never a time when we are not welcome to return to God. If God is always eager to receive a sinner in repentance, then what’s the rush? If God does not close His gates, and prevent people from entering His presence, why is there a service telling people the gates are about to close so they better pray with all they’ve got?

If we live only with the assumption that repentance always is available, then we would never be motivated to actually change at a particular instance. Just as knowledge of our certain mortality infuses our life with a need to seize the day, so does the push of Yom Kippur as a time particularly favorable to teshuvah (repentance) inspire us to more focused contemplation than a more open-ended process would. [www.jewishjournal.com/culture/religion/yom_kippur/225057/neilah/]

If all we think about is that the Gates to Heaven are always open, people have no reason or need to enter now. People can choose to continue living a life without God, assuming they’ve got lots of time before they need to change and put God first. For this reason, the Neilah service is necessary.

Once the service ends, and people exit the doors they’ll be confronted with many necessary needs of life. God may still be on their minds, but He will no longer dominate their thoughts like He did during the service. The things we think about and do outside the gates of Temple are not sinful, but once the service ends, God will not have the same place in our minds as He had during the service.

(James 4:14 NLT) How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog - it’s here a little while, then it’s gone.

You know for sure that the morning fog will disappear, but we do not know when. Time is constantly moving forward, and we have no clue when our life will end. We do not know exactly when we will die, but many of us reading this blog know that we are closer to the time of our death then we are to the time of our birth.

(Everyman’s Talmud, p. 110) However true it be that repentance is possible up to the moment of death, it is considered unwise to postpone it. ‘R. Eliezer said, “Repent one day before your death.” His disciples asked him, “Does then, anybody know on which day he will die?” He replied to them, “How much more reason is there for him to repent today, lest he be dead tomorrow; and as a consequence all his days will be spent in repentance”’ (Shab. 153a).

What great insight! Right up to the second, we breathe our last breath, we have an opportunity to repent. But the reality is that we do not know the exact time we will die. Therefore, we cannot postpone repenting of our sins or turning back to God. We need to make sure that we will be able to enter God’s gates right now!


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