The King and the Invisible Gates
Delivered Rosh Hashanah Evening, September 4, 2013
Congregation Dorshei Emet
Rabbi Julia Appel
I want to tell you a story, a story I learned from my teacher Rabbi Art Green. It’s a story of the Baal Shem Tov, the first Chassidic rebbe – a mystic, a healer, a miracle worker.
It’s a story about a king. A king all alone, sitting in his throne. The king sighs. “All I want is to be close to my people!” he says. “I know! Maybe no one knows I am here! I will bring my throne right up to the street, right where anyone can find me.” So he brings his throne right up to the street, right where anyone can find him. But no one comes.
The king sighs. “All I want is to be close to my people!” he says. “I know! I will create an optical illusion – I will make the people see something that isn’t really here. I will make them see towers, ramps and moats, and gate after gate between them and me. And next to each of these imaginary gates I will place a treasure.”
So the king creates the illusion, of towers, of ramps and moats, of gate after gate leading up to his throne, that aren’t really there. And he sends out invitations to his people: “Come! Everyone is invited to visit me! But you must go through gate after gate to reach me, and whoever does, will get to visit with me!” Then he scatters treasures around each gate. It is a test.
What a challenge! The people begin to come, to try to make it through all these gates to see the king. The first one, the cook, comes and makes it to the first gate, but she stops there and looks down. “Oh my! What beautiful kettles made of shiny new copper and what beautiful oiled wood handles!” She picks up a kettle and carries it home, whistling as she walks.
The second one comes, the carpenter. He makes it to the second gate, but he stops there and looks down. “Oh my! What gorgeous solid gold hammers!” He picks one up and carries it home, singing himself a little song.
The third one comes, the seamstress. She makes it to the third gate, but she stops there and looks down. “Oh my! What amazing pairs of scissors, all with diamond encrusted handles!” She picks up a pair of sparkling scissors and carries them home, laughing to herself at her good fortune.
On and on, the people come to visit the king, and each time they stop at one of the imaginary gates, and turn home with their treasure.
Finally, the king’s son hears about the invitation. He has been away a long time. He misses his father, the king. He wants to see him very much. He walks past the first gate with the copper kettles. He walks past the second gate with the golden hammers. He walks right past the third gate with the diamond-encrusted scissors and doesn’t even look. He walks through all the gates, with their many treasures of precious metals, jewels, the most fantastic things you have never seen, and right up to his father, the king, sitting in his throne. And when the son turns around to look back at the gates, they disappear. He sees that they were never there to begin with. It was all an optical illusion. In the end, nothing came between them at all.
In our tradition, Rosh Hashanah is the day when we re-crown God as King of all creation. Sometimes God seems very far away. It seems there are obstacles between us and the Holy One. The shofar helps us blast through the obstacles between us. But you are closer than you imagine. You are so very close. The shofar does not blow away obstacles. It blows away illusions. Illusions are for those who aren’t really there to see the king.