Gates of Heaven Before Yom Kippur

Jew prays on Yom Kippur

Gates of Heaven Open to Me!

We have already ascended the Mountain of Hashem, we have come to His holy place, and we have received upon ourselves a blessing from the God of our Salvation. Now we find ourselves standing before His Gates! What more can we ask, but to be allowed in?

It turns out that these Gates are not made of metal, the work of men’s hands. They are images of the Gates of Heaven above, the Gates of Righteousness: “Open the gates of righteousness to me; I will enter through them, I will give thanks to the LORD.” (Ps. 118:19) These are gates that I am supposed to enter – but the King of all the earth, the Creator, is also said to go through them.

For Him, they are the “Everlasting Doors”: “Lift up your heads, you gates, and be lifted up, you ancient [or, everlasting] doors, that the King of glory may come in!” (Ps. 24:7, 9) It’s true that these Gates and Doors are great and mighty; yet when the King of Glory approaches, they open even wider and higher, in His honor.

When the King reaches the Gates with His armies, everything opens. The question is asked and answered twice (Ps. 24:8-10): “Who is the King of glory?” The first answer: “The LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle.” And immediately the call goes out again to the Gates to “lift up” even higher.

The second time, the query is more specific – as though those who are asking have just gotten their first glimpse of the Majestic One: “Who is this King of glory?” The second answer: “The LORD of armies, He is the King of glory.” He alone, and no one else.

But really, what is the difference between the two answers? Why is it asked twice and answered twice? What can we learn here?

The title “LORD of armies” (or “LORD of Hosts” in some English versions) does not appear in the Torah. Its first mention is during the time of the Judges (1 Sam. 1:3), and the first person to call Him by this name was Hannah, the mother of Samuel (verse 11). Some other time we will explore why she used that title. But in the expression, we see a plural. The LORD has more than one army.

In fact, He has untold numbers of armies at His command. “The earth is the LORD’s, and all it contains, the world, and those who live in it.” (Ps. 24:1) All living things are His servants – plants, animals, and especially people. But that’s not all. Every Shabbat evening, the Jewish people raise the wine to recite the Kiddush, which begins with Scripture: “And so the heavens and the earth were completed, and all their heavenly host.” That last word in Genesis 2:1 is the Hebrew word for “army”, so the “host” in “the heavens” could be both physical and spiritual – from the sun, moon and stars to exalted angelic beings. All of them carry out His will.

Thus, the Holy One has at His disposal multiple armies both on earth and in Heaven. But among them is one special group of armed forces that is close to His heart: “When Pharaoh does not listen to you, I will lay My hand on Egypt and bring out My armies, My people the sons of Israel, from the land of Egypt by great judgments.” (Exod. 7:4)

And that’s what happened (Exod. 12:41): “And at the end of 430 years, on this very day, all the multitudes [literally, the armies] of the LORD departed from the land of Egypt.” It’s true that Hashem was not explicitly called “LORD of armies” at that time. But it’s clear that He Himself led these armies out, and that they were the people of Israel.

David, the future king, understood this when he declared to the Philistine Goliath, “You come to me with a sword, a spear, and a saber, but I come to you in the name of the LORD of armies, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.” (1 Sam. 17:45)

Every army of the LORD has the joint task of maintaining security. There are also special units with specific tasks. When the King of Glory, the Almighty Creator, passes through the Heavenly Gates, He does not do it alone. He comes with an Honor Guard of elite units – all those who believe in Him and who have given their lives to “sanctify His Name.” This is the traditional Jewish expression for those who were killed for their faith.

At some point, we all must come in through those Gates of Righteousness. And we are faced with a dilemma. We must want to be righteous in order to be righteous. We must long for the Righteous One in order to be like Him. Yet only those who are righteous would want this!

In seeking to enter these “Gates” (Ps. 118:19-20), we are appealing to others to open them for us (the call to “open” is plural in Hebrew). Whether angels or men, the Gatekeepers may be the ones who answer in the following verse:

Open the Gates of righteousness to me; I will enter through them; I will give thanks to the LORD. This is the Gate of the LORD; the righteous will enter through it.”

Interestingly, the “Gates” suddenly become just one Gate, or else we are told about another Gate that leads to the Gates of Righteousness. And there is a “key” or a condition to entering. We are to thank the King for a specific benefit: “I will give thanks to You, for You have answered me, and You have become my salvation.” (v. 21)

Notice that we are not coming to the Gate and asking Him to save us; we are coming with gladness that the Holy One has already done it! We have asked the Creator to “become my salvation,” and we know that He has answered us.

These righteous who “will enter” can be Jewish or non-Jewish, as Isaiah prophesied (Isa. 26:2): “Open the gates, that the righteous nation [literally, goy or Gentile] may enter, the one that keeps faithfulness.” If you are staying faithful to the God of Israel, no one can turn you away from His Gates. It is written (Ps. 33:1): “Sing for joy in the LORD, you righteous ones!” These “righteous ones” are not identified as “Jewish” or “Christian” – they are all simply “upright”.

Let’s approach the King’s Heavenly Gates with joy and hope, with singing and thankfulness. May He be blessed forever.

May you be blessed likewise.


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