Neilah - The Last Chance
Neilah - This is my favorite High Holiday service. There is a beautiful urgency in this service, and one which also evokes a longing in me at the same time.
I have referred to it in the past as the Last-Chance Prayer Service. You know how last chances go. They are meaningful. You "get it" in a new way when you know you are on your last chance. The importance of the thing or circumstance you want becomes paramount. You can almost feel this last chance reverberate through the body. You are heightened.
This is the service, if there ever was one, where Encounter will take place. Where Divinity will bless you with Its presence. Where you will Feel. Every day, we pray three times - Maariv, Shacharit, and Mincha. On Shabbat, and Jewish holidays, we add in a fourth prayer - Mussaf. And on Yom Kippur, we have the fifth - Neilah. Neilah is aligned with the fifth and highest part of the soul - the Holy of Holies of the Soul. I think this explains why Neilah is an auspicious service, and one has such a great opportunity to glimpse Oneness.
Traditionally, Neilah begins when "the sun hits the top of the trees." This is the time of in-between-ness. Between day and night. Between endings and beginnings. All of this is made magical, in a way, by the fact that we have been fasting all day, and we are tired and hungry. This end-state can be the headspace needed to Encounter. It is that last moment - before bed, before a lover leaves, before the finality of it all - the last chance...
I love that part of that Feel comes from chanting. Three times we chant Baruch Sheim, "Blessed is the Name of G-d's glorious kingdom for all eternity" (in Hebrew of course) and then we proclaim, seven times Hashem Hu Haelokem, which feels like chant to me, "The Lord - Only the Lord is G-d."
And we have Avinu Malkeinu. I know it is easy to get caught up in Gender, but when it comes to the images in this prayer, to hyperfocus and subsequently not be able to connect to male images can lead to missing the point. Father and King. The intimate and the distant. The small and the big. The I am nothing and the I am everything. The duality. And in that, the One.
Neilah is the service I come back to when I am longing for an Encounter with the Source of it all.