The Seven Gates stand for the proposition that everyone can find a place at Temple Emanuel. Whatever your passion, whatever inspires you, it is here. All you have to do is enter. While these are entry points, it is not only about entering.
It is also about what you do once you are here. It is about engaging. It is about finding meaning, purpose, and friends within a community of people who are moved by what moves you. The gates are open and waiting for you.
Through which gate will you enter?
The Gate of Torah
The Talmud (Kiddushin 40B) reports a great debate among the sages: what is greater, learning or doing? Everyone’s time is limited. If you have an hour to give, is it better to be in a class with a text, or in the world helping somebody? Rabbi Tarfon argued: doing good deeds is more important. Rabbi Akiva argued: learning Torah is more important. The sages came to a consensus: learning Torah is more important, because learning leads to doing.
In explaining this debate, the Talmudic commentator Rashi observed that if we learn Torah, we have two benefits. We learn Torah, and the Torah we learn changes our lives by inspiring us to do deeds. The learning we do at Temple Emanuel, in our preschool, our religious school, our informal education, our family and adult education, Shabbat morning, Sunday morning, and weekdays, all yield important questions.
What difference does this Torah make in how you live your life? Does the Torah you learn increase your kindness, your compassion, your love?
The Gate of Prayer
In our Etz Hayim chumash, Rabbi Harold Kushner writes: “We cannot see God directly. We can only see the difference that God has made after the fact. We can recognize God’s reality by seeing the difference God has made in people’s lives.” So too with prayer, we can gauge the impact of prayer by seeing the difference prayer has made in people’s lives.
• Gaining strength after a loss by coming to our daily minyan
• Celebrating a miraculous recovery or a joyful occasion
• Feeling supported and heard by the prayer for healing • Reconnecting with friends at kiddush after Shabbat morning services
• Being filled with pride as we see our children and grandchildren take their place in the Jewish story
• Getting the emotional sustenance we need to go out and bring more kindness, more compassion, and more love into our world We gather together in prayer so that we can see and feel God’s impact in our lives.
The Gate of Israel
The prophet Isaiah charges us: “For the sake of Zion I will not be silent, For the sake of Jerusalem I will not be still.” Seventy years after the miraculous creation of our Jewish homeland, how are we who live here in Newton to be faithful to these timeless words?
People who love Israel at Temple Emanuel, but do not live in Israel, engage with Israel. Engagement means promoting an ongoing, passionate, respectful conversation about Israel, in all of its complexity, grounded in Jewish values: peace, self-preservation, justice, land, compromise, and the prophetic ideal that Israel be a light unto the nations. We may well agree to disagree on the issues of the day, but the conversation is suffused by these timeless Jewish values. Engagement means going to Israel, a lot.
This coming year we are sending three missions to Israel for learners at different ages and stages of life. Engagement means listening to, and learning from, the many Israeli thought leaders across the political spectrum who come to 385 Ward Street to speak to us about our beloved homeland. Engagement means speaking up for Israel in the public square, consistent with our principles. If we are engaged in these ways, we will find our own way to express kindness, compassion and love for Israel.
The Gate of Shabbat
Our teacher Micah Goodman has observed that our smart phones, iPads, and other screens make wonderful servants and terrible masters. They are wonderful servants if we can control when, how and why they are used. They are terrible masters if we can never turn them off. They are terrible masters if we are addicted to them. They are terrible masters if they get in the way of relationships with our friends and family whom we cannot see because our eyes are glued to those screens.
Shabbat has been around for thousands of years, but it has a new and renewed importance today. Shabbat can help us create a tech free zone, where our cells are off, our souls are on, our screens are out of the way, and we can see and connect more deeply with the people in our lives. Shabbat deeply experienced brings more kindness, compassion and love to the people we love most.
The Gate of Redeeming the World
If there is one voice that the biblical prophet Isaiah has no patience for, if there is one voice that the rabbis who made Isaiah the Haftarah on Yom Kippur have no patience for, it is the voice of one who says: What can I do? I am only one person. I am not an elected leader. I am not in law enforcement. I am not a business titan or a philanthropist. What can I, as one person, possibly do? The answer of Isaiah is: you can, and therefore you must, make a difference. To somebody else. Speaking for God, Isaiah says:
This is the fast I desire: To unlock fetters of wickedness, And untie the cords of the yoke To let the oppressed go free; To break off every yoke.
It is to share your bread with the hungry And to take the wretched poor into your home; When you see the naked, to clothe him, And not to ignore your own kin. (58:6-7)
There is brokenness in the world, privation, poverty, suffering, people unseen, people on the margins. We can, and our religious tradition teaches us that we must, step up. We must add to the quantum of kindness, compassion and love in the world. That is at the heart of what it means to be a Jew.
The Gate of Building Community
This summer the New York Times health reporter Jane E. Brody wrote a piece summing up social science research: “Social interaction is a critically important contributor to good health and longevity.” Social isolation leads to loneliness and shorter lives.
Being part of a loving community leads to longer and happier lives. Our tradition has known this for a long time. The best of times, the worst of times, require being part of a community. You want to get married? A Jewish wedding requires at least a minyan, ten people present. Want to say Kaddish? We need a minyan.
Temple Emanuel channels our tradition’s deep intuition about the need for community. Whatever you are interested in—from learning, praying, and doing social justice, to knitting, playing softball, and socializing—there are friends at Temple Emanuel with whom you can share your interest and walk through life, together through the years. Being part of the fabric of a community that cares adds kindness, compassion and love to your life, and allows you to add kindness, compassion and love to the lives of others.
The Gate of Teaching Jewish Values to Our Children
One of the most beautiful sights in the world is a picture we can never take. There can be no photograph. But it is unspeakably beautiful.
That is the picture of parents on the day of their child’s Bar or Bat Mitzvah beaming as their child chants Torah and Haftarah and speaks to the congregation. Why do parents beam? They beam because they take seriously and personally the sacred obligation of transmitting Jewish values from one generation to the next. This moment means the next generation is beginning to get it.
They beam because their children often speak of real impact they have had on the world through their mitzvah projects. They beam because their children are optimistic, forces for good and hope. We are agents of repair, not agents of despair. They beam because their children are beginning to sense that Torah and mitzvah will fill their lives with meaning, purpose and the deepest joy.
We all beam when we are part of a community where kindness, compassion and love are transmitted from generation to generation.