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The Miraculous Sound of Disappearing Sin

The Miraculous Sound of Disappearing Sin


After Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, comes to a close, we bid farewell to the special day which guarantees us atonement. We recite the evening prayers; the Shema, with its blessings before and after, and then the Amidah (silent prayer), as we do every evening. After a day immersed in repentance, we recite this daily prayer with a completely clean slate. We pray with a new lease on life and devoid of sin.

Yet, six blessings into the Amidah, we recite the blessing of Selach lanu, wherein we ask G‑d to "forgive us for we have sinned," and we call G‑d, "He who pardons abundantly."

We were just confirmed "sinless" moments prior. Why do we recite this blessing?

We pray with a new lease on life and devoid of sinThe "halachists" among us would argue that we recite this blessing because we, as a rule, do not change the liturgy, even in a case where it may not be as applicable.

The idealists among us may propose that the prayer of Selach lanu, as most prayers, is written in the plural. "Forgive us, for we have sinned." Perhaps we are unsoiled with sin, but there may be, Heaven forbid, Jews who did not come to synagogue and participate in the spiritual cleansing process; we therefore recite it for them.

The "cynics" among us would opine that we actually do need to beg for forgiveness; due to our hunger, we are not praying with true kavanah (focus and concentration) and are counting down the minutes rather than counting our blessings.

The more reflective among us may appreciate the retort that a true servant of G‑d performs teshuvah (repentance) every day, and constantly strives to be better and better.

Those of us who love parables would find meaning in the following explanation.

Shai Agnon, Israel's acclaimed Nobel Laureate, quotes a story in the name of Rabbi Yitzchak of Vorki,1 who shared a story about a peasant who insulted the king. The king in a demonstration of compassion ordered that the peasant not be punished, since his error was inadvertent, it was due to his lack of knowledge and appreciation of the homage due to the Sovereign. He opted to educate the peasant, and his orders were followed. His plan was successful. After his make-over, the peasant was brought before the king. Upon realizing what he did, now fully understanding the implications of his transgression, he summarily fainted.

Yom Kippur provides an education for us – a spiritual bath if you will – which can only be appreciated afterwardsRabbi Yitzchak's story teaches us that Yom Kippur provides an education for us – a spiritual bath if you will – which can only be appreciated afterwards.

The final response to this question, the "chassidic answer," speaks the loudest to me. It is found in the writing of the first Gerer Rebbe, Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Alter. Why do we pound our chest and say Selach lanu minutes after the Gates of Heaven closed with an affirmative verdict?

"It seems that the reason is because the Children of Israel must believe that Yom Kippur truly atones. If, G‑d forbid, one has even a slight doubt if he was forgiven, he has sinned. We therefore pray at the end of Yom Kippur because perhaps we did not have full faith that Yom Kippur atones."2

The Gerer Rebbe teaches us such a valuable lesson! We have to believe in the power of Yom Kippur and teshuvah, the beautiful music of the sound of disappearing sin. We have transgressed if we did not fully believe that G‑d wipes clean our transgressions on Yom Kippur, and that we emerge cleansed.

What a powerful notion!


Days of Awe pp. 272-273. The Artscroll Yom Kippur Machzor cites the story as well – pp. 804 in the Ashkenaz version. The original can be found, as cited by Agnon in Gedulat Tzadikim II, 22.


Siach Sarfei Kodesh II, found in Chidushei HaRIM on Yom Kippur.

Rabbi Elly Krimsky is the rabbi of the Young Israel of Stamford, CT. Rabbi Krimsky also serves as Assistant Director of Jewish Career Development and Placement and the Director of RIETS Rabbinic Alumni, both at Yeshiva University under the auspices of the Center for the Jewish Future.
Sefira Ross is a freelance designer and illustrator whose original creations grace many pages. Residing in Seattle, Washington, her days are spent between multitasking illustrations and being a mom.
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Yitzchakchaim September 25, 2017

A powerful symbol that is provided by the beating on the heart ritual is pain. It's is extremely difficult and emotionally exhausting to truly repent. Fasting greatly increases our irritability and obviously our carnal desire. This makes our heart much more vulnerable so that -lord willing- we may achieve a deep level of teshuvah.
Will you have the strength this year to truly beat on your heart?
Before any of us can achieve repentence, we must first remember our sins, really feel their weight and the guilt that comes with them, then finally beg g-d for forgiveness.

I picture myself as a captive imprisoned by my sin on Yom kippur. It is impossible to escape unless I use every single tool in my possession. I must take the time to search through the darkened walls of my cage for the spots of light shining through. Reply

Josie Hnl, Hi October 10, 2011

Atonement Every year I go to the water with tears in my eyes and I lift my arms wide open wiith my palms facing towards the magnificent sky and I humbly ask God to forgive me for any and all of my transgressions, for all of the pain I hold or have been a catalyst in causing pain, loss, words of hurt, and knowing or unknowing acts of wrong. I pray for my son above that he truly is in every rainbow I see, and I pray for my son on earth that he will be under the protective wings of angels who fly and walk the earth dressed like real people. I pray that my young grandchildren are safe and know that. There is a higher meaning to life then meets their innocent curious beautiful eyes. I pray for the sick in mind, body, spirit and soul that peace will be... Reply

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