Yom Kippur is a full day, but its spirit is captured by the night. Although the Kol Nidrei prayer begins before the sun has set, when we walk out of the synagogue, the sky is dark and our souls are in the solitude of evening reflection.
The final hours of Yom Kippur, during the Neilah service, we anticipate the night to come. For as the sun is setting we grasp the last hours of repentance, our final chance to pray and chant and cry together with the community, seeking magic and feeling foreboding, as children do in the dark.
The night has touched our people; Abraham’s covenant was born at night, presaging the “night of watching” before the liberation from Egypt. As Yom Kippur closes, we pray that the searching we have done in the dark will illuminate the shadows in our souls and lead us to better lives. The spirit of Neilah is well captured in these lines by the English poet W.H. Auden:
“Dear Children, trust the night and have
Faith in tomorrow,
That these hours of ambiguity and
Indecision may be also
The hours of healing.”
Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter: @RabbiWolpe. His latest book is “David: The Divided Heart” (Yale University Press).