The Yom Kippur Afternoon Service
With the deferral of Ashrei (אשרי) to the Neilah service, the Mincha service begins with the reading of the Torah (Leviticus 18). See the Talking Torah section for a full explanation of this reading.
The Book of Jonah constitutes the entire Haftarah reading with an appendage of three verses from the Book of the Prophet Micah at the end. While most people associate the Book of Jonah with the story of his being swallowed alive by a whale, this is not a simple “Whale of a story”. The purpose of the story is not to entertain but to chasten.
On one level, the book is about the impossibility of fleeing from God but the book also hints that Jonah actually wanted the people of Nineveh to be punished for their sins. However, when warned by Jonah, the citizens of Nineveh repent and the city is not destroyed showing that God seeks and prefers repentance – t’shuvah (תשובה) and not destruction.
The Mincha service concludes with Avinu Malkeinu.
Neilah means “locking up” and with it, we lock up the Yom Kippur service and lock the Book of Life that God has been holding since Rosh Hashana. Dramatically, we can imagine the gates of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem closing as the sun sank into the western sky. At Battery Park, we can watch the sun set on the Jersey side of the Hudson River.
For more than 24 hours, the community has been occupied with the work of repentance and is now feeling emotionally and physically drained. Yet, at this moment, one is uplifted and there is a feeling of exultation. Neilah gives us that final chance to communicate directly with God.
During the Neilah service, the Ark remains open. Now standing as a community, despite the exhaustion, there is a feeling of being united in purpose. Of course, if one is unable to stand, he/she may sit. This is not, in the least, considered disrespectful.
The image of the “closing gate” challenges us to recognize that life and time are not limitless resources. Our days are numbered. Our time on earth is limited. Neilah challenges us to make the most of the blessing of life we have geen granted – as long as we have them!
At the end, standing with a final surge of energy and strength, there is a final sounding of the shofar, a tekiah g’dolah (תקיעה גדולה) – a blast of hope and confidence!
Yom Kippur ends on a positive note. The long and difficult day ends. . We declare our faith in God and the ultimate redemption of the Jewish people.
Now it is time to prepare for Sukkot (סוכות) and, by creating a sense of continuity, drive the first nail into the Sukkah.