If Judaism were the sport of baseball, then Yom Kippur’s Ne’ilah prayer would be the ninth inning of a World Series game. The liturgical and spiritual experience of Ne’ilah truly offers a once-a-year intensity through its personal and religious intimacy. To best understand its deeper meaning, JInsider spoke with Rabbi Simon Jacobson, author of the best-selling “60 Days: A Spiritual Guide to the High Holidays.” This practical and thoughtful companion to the High Holiday prayer book is a great playbook for novices and professional shul-goers.
Inner Journey Through Prayer
The preparation work in advance of Yom Kippur is a journey inward that culminates in the fifth and final prayer of the Yom Kippur service — Ne’ilah (the “Locking of the Gates”).
Every day we have three prayers — Maariv (the evening prayer), Shacharit (the morning prayer) and Mincha (the afternoon prayer). On Shabbat and every other Jewish holiday we have a fourth — Mussaf (the additional prayer). But only on Yom Kippur is there a fifth — Ne’ilah. This is because Ne’ilah corresponds to the fifth and highest dimension of the soul — the Holy of Holies of the soul — which we access only on this one day at this one time.
The Soul & Prayer Scorecard: Inner Access through Liturgy
Part of Soul
Yom Kippur Finale
All days of the year we’re able to access the three dimensions of our soul; on Shabbat we access the fourth, chayah, but only on Yom Kippur can we access the fifth, yechidah — oneness with God.
This is because during Ne’ilah, before the gates are locked, everything is open and we are able to reach even yechidah, which is the most intimate, vulnerable, gentle part of the soul of the human being, unshielded by the defenses of the other levels. We reach it at the precise moment when Ne’ilah is said, and when, at its conclusion, we declare Shema Israel: “Hear O Israel, God is our Lord, God is One.”
The Epiphany Moment
The Shaloh, the great 16th-century sage, writes, “There is no higher experience for the Jew as when he acknowledges the oneness of God and his readiness to give his entire life to God.” This is the moment when the spark and the flame come closest all year round. This is the most powerful moment of the year. This is the moment that you are the closest that you can come to the essence of everything, to God.
Message for 5771
If you were to ask this holiday season for one thing, “achas sho’alti,” ask for this: That your core purity should surface. That you should have the ability to dwell in and be embraced by its warm arms all the days of your life. That you should sense with awe and behold its beauty. And above all, that you should integrate all that power into your daily grind — making the ordinary extraordinary; swimming the waters, but always remaining above the waves.
More on Rabbi Simon Jacobson
Rabbi Jacobson is the author of the best-selling book “Toward a Meaningful Life” and heads The Meaningful Life Center, which bridges the secular and the spiritual through a wide variety of programming. His programs take place at the Sixth Street Synagogue in Manhattan. (www.meaningfullife.com)