The Jewish people celebrate a number of sacred holidays; however, to the Jews, Yom Kippur is their holiest religious observance. It is a day of intense fasting and concerted prayer for the atonement of their sins before God. By keeping this solemn act of contrition and prayer, the Jews believe they come closer to God.
The evening liturgy commences with the prayer of Kol Nidre, which the Jews recite in an effort to draw nearer to their Creator. Jews all across the world gather and chant the Kol Nidre, which means, all vows. In this prayer, they ask God to annul all their personal vows, rash religious commitments made — but unfulfilled. At first glance, this seems to defeat the purpose of Yom Kippur, since it is a day of intense prayer. Why should vows be annulled at all? Should they not rather be fulfilled? The institution of annulment is ancient, and is mentioned in some of the earliest passages of Mishnah (the Jewish oral tradition of The Torah). A person that has made a vow without full awareness of its implications or consequences can come to a stage of Yom Kippur where God can release them from their vows. The prayer of Kol Nidre has the authority to declare those vows null and void so that the petitioner is released from the vow. The association of Kol Nidre with Yom Kippur reflects a common feeling that unfulfilled obligations would impede the atonement process and keep the Jews away from God. Thus, chanting the Kol Nidre releases the Jews from their unfulfilled vows and prepares them for the rest of the atonement process of Yom Kippur in their journey toward God.
The service continues with the prayer of the Shema, which is designed to aid the Jews in their pursuit of God. The Shema is derived from the books of Deuteronomy and Numbers (from the Torah) and is recited out loud. One of the most important lines that the Jews read aloud during the Shema is, Baruch Shem Kavod Malchuto LeOlam Vaed (Blessed is the Name of His Glorious Kingdom for all eternity). This phrase is especially important because the Jews believe that Moshe (Moses) originally heard these declarations from the angels when he was receiving the Torah from God on Mount Sinai. Although the Jews usually say this expression quietly, on Yom Kippur they say it OUT LOUD. You see, the Jews believe that angels spoke these words, and to say it loudly would be considered blasphemy. On Yom Kippur, however, they are able to utter these idioms boldly; it is as if God spiritually raises them to the level of angels. Therefore, through the prayer of the Shema, they experience a closeness to God.
The ritual of Yom Kippur continues with Viduy (which means confession) and is a vital component of their quest for God. The Jews believe confession is an essential part of repentance, and that repentance cannot be just a fleeting thought through a persons mind. A person must come to the complete understanding that the sins he committed were wrong, and cannot be rationalized away. Viduy is a time when the Jews confess their sins; specifically, the sins listed in the Al Cheit and Ashamnu (alphabetical lists of most categories of sins). During this time, confession is made for personal sins, as well as corporate sins on behalf of all Jews. Consider Israel as a body, and every person a limb of that body. Since every person is a member of that body, the Jews must confess to all the sins of all the parts of that body. Through the confession of sins, God can forgive them and bring them closer to Himself.
The concluding service of Neilah is the end of Yom Kippur and brings closure for the petitioner seeking God. Jews normally pray three times a day on weekdays, and four times a day on Shabbat, and other Holidays. On Yom Kippur, however, Neilah is added to the four services usually held on Holidays. Neilah is said as the sun is going down and literally means closing (or locking); it refers to the closing of the gates of the holy temple at the end of the day, and to the conclusion of the prayers of Yom Kippur. The service of Neilah contains several pleas to God that He will accept their prayers before Yom Kippur ends. The Rabbi or Rosh Yeshiva (head of Jewish studies school) or the Village Elder speaks, and inspires the congregants to pray more fervently. Sometimes he will lead the entire service himself (instead of the cantor) to express the heightened sense of urgency. Another custom during the Neilah is for the Aron HaKodesh (the Holy Ark that contains the congregations Torah scrolls) to be kept open throughout the service, and for those who are able to stand for the entire time to do so. In addition, the Jews say the Avinu Malkenu (Our Father Our King) and other prayers of repentance all throughout Yom Kippur. After Neilah, there is a l-o-n-g and mighty blast from the shofar (a rams horn), and the services conclude with the exclamations of Shema Yisrael, Hear, Oh Israel. Next Year in Jerusalem. The Neilah service brings the Jews nearer to God through the reverence and prayers of repentance directed towards Him.
Yom Kippur is essentially the last appeal, the last chance to change the judgment sealed in the archives of Heaven. On this holiest of Jewish holy days, a day set aside, to afflict the soul, I submit to you that Yom Kippur is the consummation of the participants efforts to come closer to God.