By Rabbi Edwin Goldberg

The N’ilah service on late Yom Kippur afternoon is notable for its image of the Gates of Repentance closing their doors.  At this late and hungry hour, for the final time during the Day of Atonement, we are summoned to repentance.  The fact that many Sages argue we can actually delay our atonement to the end of the Sukkot holiday does not lessen the drama of the moment.

At the end of N’ilah, often as the sun has set, we will hear the final blast of the shofar.  We will also declare the most essential teaching of the entire season: God is Merciful!  We actually chant this seven times, just to make sure we get the point.  The Gates are closing, but the mercy of God never ends.

By Rabbi Richard Sarason

Yom Kippur is the only day in the traditional Jewish liturgical year to have five services: in addition to the usual four shared with Shabbatot, Festivals, and Rosh Hashanah (evening, morning, Musaf, and afternoon1), Yom Kippur has a concluding service called N’ilah (literally, "locking"). This name refers to the time of the locking of the gates of the Temple at the end of the day.  In this respect, too, the rabbinic liturgy for Yom Kippur emphasizes and imaginatively enacts the ritual activities of the now-destroyed Temple on the Day of Atonement.  But the image of “locking the gates” in rabbinic prayer is also construed figuratively as referring to the closing of the gates of repentance at the end of Yom Kippur and the sealing of the Book of Life for another year.  This is why, during the N’ilah service, the wording of those petitions in the Amidah and in Avinu Malkeinu that throughout the penitential season have been phrased as kotveinu ("inscribe us" [for a good year, in the book of life, etc.) is changed to chotmeinu2 ("seal us . . .").

By Cantor Penny Kessler

Eighteen years ago, when I first led Yizkor on Yom Kippur at my current synagogue, I admit to having been startled by an exodus from the pews. Our congregation recites Yizkor immediately after the Torah service, before the scrolls are returned to the ark and right before musaf (a supplemental service added by some Jews on holidays). I had always understood yizkor as – unlike the individuality of yahrzeit (the yearly anniversary of a death) or sh’loshim (the month-long mourning period following burial) – a communal experience. With its acknowledgment of the deaths of parents, siblings, other relatives, friends and our Peoples’ martyrs, Yizkor was something all Jews could share, especially during the overwhelming 25 hours of Yom Kippur. And yet people left. When gently questioned, most of those who left (some returning following Yizkor, some going home even though the service would continue with musaf in my relatively “traditional” shul) told me – and here I paraphrase – “my parents are alive and – well, you know … kinnehura.” (“Kinnehura” is a Yiddish term said to ward off the evil eye, or bad luck.) That other loved ones were memorialized within the Yizkor service, not just immediate relatives, specifically parents, didn’t make a difference; there was something about the spiritual power that caused people to exit.