June 12, 2024
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Neilah: Making Yom Kippur Last the Entire Year

After a wedding chuppah, attendees sing and dance alongside the chasan and kallah while accompanying them to a yichud (private) room. The new couple enter this room, closing and locking the door. It’s a special moment, since it’s the first time they are alone together as husband and wife.

This symbolism is still moving to me, as my daughter got married just a few weeks ago. But it’s also very relevant to the day of Yom Kippur.

One of the central parts of Yom Kippur in the time of the Beis Hamikdash, as described in the Yom Kippur davening, was the kohen gadol entering the Kodesh Hakadoshim (Holy of Holies) to entreat Hashem to forgive the entire Jewish nation. This holiest of rooms was entered only one day a year, on Yom Kippur, by the holiest man—the kohen gadol.

I was always troubled by the question of how we get atonement currently, since we don’t have a Beis Hamikdash or a kohen gadol. Rav Gedalia Schor provides a penetrating insight. The Kodesh Hakadoshim was the inner sanctum of the Beis Hamikdash where the kohen gadol encountered a heightened presence of Hashem. The kohen gadol was the representative of the entire Jewish nation. Although he was the only one to enter, it was as if each Jew experienced a private meeting with Hashem at that time.

Today we do not have a physical Beis Hamikdash or Kodesh Hakadoshim. Still, each person has a neshama (soul) that can never be tainted and always remains pure. Deep inside of us there is an inner sanctum of the neshama where we can establish a close relationship with Hashem.

However, it is difficult to be in touch with this deep inner core during the year with all the distractions that occur. But on Yom Kippur, the satan is silenced and we can rise above the trivial to focus on our true purpose: developing our relationship with Hashem.

The Zera Kodesh compares the locking of the door behind the chasan and kallah, secluding them, to the period of Neilah (which means to lock) on Yom Kippur. Neilah is when each of us is secluded with Hashem at the closing of the day, beseeching a good judgment. It’s an especially opportune time to reach deep into ourselves and connect to our Creator.

The Torah says the avodah (service) of Yom Kippur is “achas bashana”—once a year. The Sfas Emes says these words describe two different ways we can relate to Yom Kippur. It can be a once-a-year meeting with Hashem where at the end of the day we say “see you next year” and continue our regular routine the next day. Or, we can make our one-day Yom Kippur experience last for the entire year!

The Gemara recounts that there was a rabbi who lived very far from his yeshiva. He would travel for months to get there, stay one day, and then begin his return trip home. He was inside the yeshiva for just one day! People gave him a nickname “bar bei yoma”—the one-day-a-year man. For him, the whole year centered around this one day of learning. It was a fitting nickname!

We have the opportunity on Yom Kippur, particularly during Neilah, to lock in that intimate feeling of closeness to Hashem. We can make this one day…last an entire year.

How do we capture this feeling? Rav Shimshon Pinchus explains that when we perform a mitzvah we are doing the will of Hashem. Regarding each mitzvah there is an outer dimension and an inner dimension. The outer dimension is the physical performance of the mitzvah, while the inner dimension is the individual’s feeling and connection to Hashem obtained by learning about the halachos and significance of the mitzvah. The more we know about the mitzvah, the more benefit we obtain from its performance. Learning Torah about the mitzvos symbolizes our entering the Kodesh Hakadoshim. And we can do that all year round! It’s a true delight to Hashem and forms an intimate bond with our Creator.

On Yom Kippur during Neilah we should accept upon ourselves a small mitzvah we can commit to in order to lock in that close feeling with Hashem. There is no better way to make a small but lasting commitment than to resolve to learn additional Torah, or to improve the quality of our existing learning.

This will ensure that Yom Kippur, our holiest day, transforms into a year-round uplifting experience.


Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate rosh yeshiva of Passaic Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch, where he leads a multi-level Gemara-learning program. PTI has attracted adult Jews of all ages from all over northern New Jersey for its learning programs. Fees are not charged but any contributions are always welcome. Beyond PTI, Rabbi Bodenheim conducts a weekly beis midrash program with chavrusa learning in Livingston plus a monthly group in West Caldwell. Rabbi Bodenheim can be reached at [email protected]. For more info about PTI and its Torah classes, visit www.pti.shulcloud.com.

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