At the conclusion of Ne’ila, before shutting the ark, as the gates of heaven, which had been open throughout the Days of Awe, are about to close, when there is no more time to confess or to add more prayers and supplications, the custom of all Israel is to accept the yoke of heaven together. During the course of the Days of Awe, we have sharpened our awareness that faith is the foundation and purpose of everything and that every Jew wants to cling to God and to perfect the world under His kingship. The stronger our faith, the more complete our repentance, and the better and more blessed the upcoming year. Therefore, we spend the last moments of this holy day reinforcing our faith.
The primary acceptance of the yoke of heaven is expressed in the verse of “Shema Yisrael” and in “Barukh shem kevod.” We then recite “The Lord is God” (“Hashem Hu Ha-Elokim”) seven times, alluding to the seven levels of heaven through which the Divine Presence withdraws and returns to the loftiest realms, having been so close to us during the Ten Days of Repentance and Yom Kippur, enabling our repentance (SA 623:6; MB 623:11-12).
Immediately after this, at tzeit or slightly before, we blow the shofar in accordance with the instructions in the maḥzor. These blasts signal the end of the day and the ascent of the Shekhina, as we read, “God ascends with a blast; the Lord, with the sound of a shofar” (Tehilim 47:6). They commemorate the blast sounded during the Jubilee; with that blast, slaves went free and the fields returned to their original owners (6:11 above). By extension, our shofar-blowing on Yom Kippur symbolizes the emancipation of the soul, freed of the chains of sin and restored to freedom. It also hints at redemption and freedom from any form of subservience, as we read, “And on that day, a great shofar shall be sounded; and the strayed who are in the land of Assyria and the expelled who are in the land of Egypt shall come and worship the Lord on the holy mount in Jerusalem” (Yeshayahu 27:13).
Following these blasts, the tremendous tension of the Days of Awe dissipates, and all Israel experience a great, spiritual catharsis and freedom. Their hearts are filled with joy (3:5 above). Thanks to the profound immersion in repentance and faith, all of Israel knows that God loves them and accepts their repentance, and that they can continue ascending and improving throughout the coming year. Thus, at this point, many congregations dance and sing, “Le-shana ha-ba’a bi-Yerushalayim ha-benuya” (“Next year in Jerusalem rebuilt”).
Where there is concern that people might eat or drink immediately after the shofar blasts, care should be taken not to blow before tzeit. Where there is no such concern, the blasts may be sounded during twilight (MB 623:12).