The name of Neilah is ironic. Neilah refers to the locking of the gates. As the sun sets, the gates of the city are locked, the gates of heaven are locked. But as we will say in a few moments during the amidah, we implore God: p’tach lanu sha’ar b’et neilat sha’ar: Open the gates at the time when they would be locked.

Open. Open is the theme of Neilah, just as it has been for all of Yom Kippur. From the moment of Kol Nidrei, when we opened up by throwing off the fetters of our vows, to the viduy, when we have opened ourselves to critique, to the avodah, when we open ourselves to the historical moment of the beit hamikdash and transport ourselves there through the opening of imagination: openness has been our theme. P’tach lanu sha’ar b’et neilat sha’ar.

We stand here now, at this moment, as open as we will be all year. We sense the openness of the bride and groom on their wedding day, for this is the day of our wedding with the Ribbono shel Olam. It is the day of forgiveness, of renewal, of letting go, of being open. We stand here at Neilah tired and exhilarated, the way we stand near the end of the wedding: we don’t want it to end. As hungry as we are, as tired as we are, these are the last moments for us to be together in this special way: b’ahava v’achva, b’shalom v’reut.

Look around. This is our community. These are our brothers and sisters. These are the people to whom we are responsible. These are the people with whom we share some of the most intimate moments of our lives, the people whose joys and sorrows we share, the people who support us and comfort us. And in this minyan, we can say, these are even the people who know exactly what foods we like and don’t like.

This is a special group of people. The moment of Neilah is the beginning of the end, and the end of the beginning. It is the moment when we can be together in a unique way, in an open way, the way we are together at a wedding. We can pray for one another, we can pray for our kehilla, we can pray for our students, we can pray for klal yisrael. These prayers, uttered at this moment, are special prayers.

So let’s open the gates as they try to shut, let’s push them open and hold the moment a little longer. P’tach lanu sha’ar b’eit neilat sha’ar.