Beit Midrash

  • Shabbat and Holidays
  • Yom Kippur Prayers
To dedicate this lesson

Faith and Finality

At the conclusion of Neilah, at the final moments of Yom Kippur, we have a dramatic "Declaration of Faith:" The Chazan says Sh'ma Yisrael, & we repeat it; he says Baruch Shem K'vod Malchuto 3 times & we repeat it; & he then says "Hashem Hu Ha-Elokim" 7 times & we repeat it. What is the meaning of all this?

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Rabbi Stewart Weiss

Tishrei 3 5782
At the conclusion of Neilah, at the final moments of Yom Kippur, we have a dramatic "Declaration of Faith:" The Chazan says Sh'ma Yisrael, & we repeat it; he says Baruch Shem K'vod Malchuto 3 times & we repeat it; & he then says "Hashem Hu Ha-Elokim" 7 times & we repeat it. What is the meaning of all this?

Certainly, there is a clear message being sent by each phrase: Sh'ma expresses our belief in One G-d; Baruch Shem Kvod, by tradition, was a phrase recited by the angels, and so we become like angels after fasting & praying for 25 hours (and so we may say this phrase aloud rather than silently); and Hashem Hu Ha-Elokim is a mantra that allows us to drum into our heads and souls that G-d alone is the Master of the Universe.

But there is another aspect to this Declaration; it is exactly the words we say in the Vidui confession prayer, when it appears that we have reached the end of our life (ad meah v'esrim!). We go to the next world with a clear devotion to Hashem, expressing our faith and loyalty to Him. This is the culmination of a day that was a near-death experience: We washed ourselves in a Mikva, we dressed in a shroud-like white Kittel; we did not engage in any physical pursuits. In short, we prepared for death, if G-d forbid that was the verdict handed to us, while at the same time we hoped and prayed for life.

The story is told that a young man, about to enter medical school, approached Rav Moshe Feinstein and asked him for a bracha. Rav Moshe gave him his blessing, but with one condition. He admonished the future doctor to pay careful attention to when a patient was in his very last stages of life, and to then administer the Vidui to him (including the prayer that says by virtue of this very confession, G-d may heal his illness and let him live longer). Rav Moshe said, "A person should leave this world as he entered it - in purity and holiness."

The young man agreed and promised to heed Rav Moshe's instructions. Years later, the doctor arrived on call to his hospital late at night. He asked the nurse how the patients were doing and she said, "the man who glows is not doing well at all." The doctor was puzzled. "He came in this morning, and when I checked on him earlier tonight there was a glow about his face. I thought I was imagining it, but I tell you, I saw it!" The doctor rushed to the room only to see Rav Moshe lying there in the bed. He tearfully said the Vidui with him, and Rav Moshe passed on.

Hashem should give us Life and Peace for many more years, but when our time does come to go to Olam Haba, we should take our faith with us. G'mar Chatima Tova.
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