Ever since Jacob dreamed of messengers ascending and descending on a ladder, the people of Israel have spoken about the sacred Gates through which we pass. Upon awakening from that dream, Jacob declared the place to be, “the Gate of Heaven” (Genesis 28:17). In Deuteronomy, we are instructed to write sacred words on “the doorposts of our house and on our Gates” (Deuteronomy 6:9). In biblical days, important decisions like caring for the neediest people in society (widows, orphans and strangers) were made at the gates of the city where the elders would sit (Ruth 4:11).
Our tradition teaches that while the gates of prayer were closed after the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E., the gates of tears are always open (Berachot 32b; Baba Metzia 59a). No matter which of the previous two are open or closed, Rabbi Hanina teaches that the gates of repentance are always open (Lamentations Rabbah 3:44, #9; Midrash Tehilim 65:4).
Of course, we dream of a time to come when the Messiah will be sitting with the poor who are stricken with illness, compassionately wrapping their wounds with bandages, at the gates of the city of Rome (Sanhedrin 98a).
Throughout the ages, the gates of Jerusalem have served as practical passages to the this-worldly Jerusalem and idyllic passages to Jerusalem on high: especially the now blocked Golden Gate under the Temple Mount through which the Messiah is expected to pass.
These gates of which Jewish tradition speaks are gates of hope and gates of inspiration, gates of fairness and gates of compassion, gates of forgiveness and gates of ultimate redemption. These Jewish gates stand in stark contrast with the gates of which we read about in the papers and on the Web, we see on the news and all around us.
In our contemporary world, we have “CEO-gate” through which corporate executives are living in excess while their companies are failing. We read about “pay to play–gate” through which political leaders eagerly accept bribes in exchange for political appointments. Who can forget the hubris of “Private Jet–gate” through which the leaders of the big three auto companies arrogantly passed on their way from Detroit to Washington, D.C.? “TARP–gate” is among the most personally offensive since we are mortgaging our children’s financial well-being while corporate decision makers continue to sponsor Super Bowl extravaganzas and corporate named stadiums. Of course, as Jews we are particularly offended by “Ponzy-gate” when those who pass through leverage our Jewish cultural connections with one another in order to dupe their prey.
Perhaps you are as disgusted with these later gates, the gates of greed and the gates of arrogance, the gates of excess, the gates of irresponsibility and the gates of deception, as am I. Like our prayers at the end of Yom Kippur when we beseech God “to open the gates of righteousness at the time of their closing … the gates of dignity, excellence and faith … kindness and love, melody and nobility… ,” I yearn for a time when the gates of our tradition will be more prevalent in our contemporary world than the immoral gates we witness on a daily basis.
More than a heartfelt desire, this yearning serves me as a guiding principle in my own learning and my own teaching. When better to focus on our Jewish ethical inheritance than in a time when it is being challenged all around us? When better to focus on our Jewish ethical inheritance than in a time when the next generation will face unprecedented financial and societal challenges? I invite you to join me, and like-minded students of Judaism, as we pass through the eternally contemporary gates of Jewish ethics and encourage those around us do the same.
So I ask: Through which gates will you pass? Those whose legacy is that of a thirty year old corrupt administration or those that have guided our generations along the pathways of righteousness?
(Rabbi Ron Symons is the director of lifelong learning at Temple Sinai.)