Thursday, July 12, 2018

Open the Gates

by Susan Weinberg

Our exploration of thresholds has taken us through many gates. As we gathered with the rabbi one last time for this topic, he reminded us of the words for Psalm 24:9  "Lift up your head, oh you gates; lift them up you everlasting doors." Together we sang the words in Hebrew.

The rabbi shared a prayer with us that is said at the close of Shabbat at Havdallah. It identifies all the gates that we hope will open before us as we enter a new week. We each read a gate as the rabbi softly sang.

Gates of light, gates of lengthy days and years, gates of forbearance, gates of blessing, gates of understanding, gates of mirth, gates of greatness, gates of redemption, gates of power, gates of pleasure, gates of knowledge, gates of glory, gates of majesty, gates of relief, gates of a good assembly, gates of perfection, gates of alacrity, gates of song, gates of merits. gates of glow, gates of the splendor of Torah, gates of the splendor of wisdom, gates of the splendor of understanding, gates of knowledge, gates of delight, gates of compassion,gates of grace and kindness. gates of good life, gates of wisdom, (and 35 more! - see handout Gates)

"What gates have you gone through this year? What do you hope to go through?" he asked.

Many shared deeply emotional gates: supporting a friend at the end of their life, allowing the support of others as they dealt with challenges, letting go, moving out, moving on. I offered the gate of the unknown. Letting things unfold in their own way and time and embracing the unknown, always a feature of thresholds, but one we often fight. One lab member noted the range and specificity of the prayer and the fact that we go through gates all the time, but seldom give voice to the occasion. Life is full of gates and our topic forced a kind of mindfulness about each crossing.

The rabbi offered us an interesting perspective on gates through the frontispiece of Jewish books through time (see handout Frontispieces). Many included pillars as an element, forming the entrance into the book, into knowledge. This was not true of the first publishing of the Talmud in 1512, a very simple frontispiece with only text. Several of the books  (#2, #7) indicated the city in which it was published on the front, but we learned this is often misleading as below it is often the statement "in the style of" followed in the noted cases by Amsterdam or Vilna. There were styles unique to respected presses in those cities and the mimicry was designed to raise the stature of the book. Copying the actual imagery is found in #5 done by a non-Jewish artist in 1811 who lifted the design of #4 from 1698 which was done by a convert to Judaism. Image #3, a bible published in Vilna makes use of Jewish imagery including Moses and Aaron, the five books of Moses at the base and at the top, the ark and cherubim as described in Exodus.

There was one puzzling book among them. There stood Venus on the shell, surrounded by cherubim. Apparently the book was published in 1630 by a non-Jewish press which didn't employ a design that was sensitive to its audience. Many tore out the frontispiece making an intact copy quite rare.

The large image noted as being published in 1924 in Poland (Vilna) notes "this is the gate of God, the righteous will pass through it."  Here the gate represents the gate of learning.  The large image with the tree is a Mishnah published in Israel. The two boxes at the top are titled Yachim and Boaz, the names of the two pillars at either side of the temple. I find it interesting that the gates take on such anthropomorphic form. We call on them to lift their heads and we go so far as to name them.

We returned to our Gates Handout where on the second page we found a drawing of the temple complete with the names for the two pillars. Also in this drawing is the Holy of Holies in the back which is called dvir/shrine. Within it rests the two tablets of stone that Moses brought down from Horeb. Devir means "book of the palace."

Prof. Ismar Schorsch proposes that the survival of Jews in exile after the destruction of the Temple was made possible by transforming the holy from a place to a book, making the sacred portable and accessible to all.

We closed our discussion by speaking of the gate of uprightness, one which we all passed through as part of the lab. We each came together as a part of a community to learn and ultimately to present our response both visually and in words. With that we moved into the second part of our session, sharing our artwork with the others in the lab. You can view our work and the related text on our virtual exhibition.