All day, the Professor, the Billionaire, the General and the Actress fasted and prayed. They recalled the too many times they had missed the mark, and considered all they had learned and cherished on their shared pilgrimage. It was Yom Kippur as it should be—serious but not sad. Indeed, as dusk approached, they experienced the relief and joy of spiritual cleansing that comes at the close of an arduous journey taken with integrity.
As the sun sank low in the western sky, the Beggar emerged from behind the iron gate to the white-domed burial cave.
“G’mar tov,” he said—“May you all be sealed for blessing in the Book of Life. The day is fading, the sun is setting. Ne’ilah has arrived. It is the hour of the closing of the gates.”[i]
Then the Beggar threw back his hood and all the ragged bandages covering his body fell away. As he stood tall, stepping out of the shadows in gleaming white garments, the Companions immediately recognized him from their dream: their enigmatic guide had transformed into the sage they had sought from the start.
“Shimon Ben Zoma!” they gasped, “You’ve been with us all the while.”
“Hineni” said the Sage, “Here I am. Here we are, together at the end and beginning of the trail.”
There was a long silence.
Each of the Companions was flooded with reflections on the lives they’d left behind and all that loomed upon their now-imminent return:
Relationships to mend.
Careers to reconsider.
Promises to keep
Wounds to heal.
Opportunities to explore.
So many choices to be made, and challenges to be met.
There were old dreams yet to be realized, new ones still to be born,
and all the responsibilities that come of those dreams, old and new alike.
Ben Zoma looked into their eyes and felt their trepidation.
“Yes, my Companions, it’s true—your road from here will not be easy. But you have proven yourselves wise and wealthy, honored and powerful enough to walk it with your heads held high.”
“But tell us,” said the Companions, “where do we go from here?”
“You go where you’ve been traveling, though you did not know it, since the moment you left. You see, this journey is like moving along the circumference of a circle. As you set out, it feels like every day, the starting point is getting further and further away. But actually it is also drawing closer.
For everywhere you’ve gone, you’ve been heading for home.”[ii]
With that, Ben Zoma waved farewell, then turned back toward the burial cave and closed its iron gate behind him.
The Companions lingered there for a long while. And then, at last, they, too, turned, beneath the brightly shining stars, to start off, together, toward the countless gates awaiting us all in this still-new year.
[i] From a piyut, a poem in the traditional ne’ilah service: “Open the gates for us, even now, even now, as the gates are closing and the day begins to fade. Oh, the day is fading, the sun is setting. Let us enter your gates!
[ii] Rabbi Alan Lew cites this teaching from Rabbi Joseph Solovetchik in his book This is Real and You are Completely Unprepared.