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!