The Torah states, “For on this day (Yom Kippur) he (the Kohen Gadol) shall provide atonement for you to cleanse you; from all your sins before Hashem shall you be cleansed” (Vayikra 16:30). Since it is a day of forgiveness and atonement, confession is a prerequisite. Thus, a special confessional prayer known as Al chet — “For the sin” — is recited a total of ten times.

Al chet is first recited at the conclusion of the Mincha Amidah on Erev Yom Kippur and it is repeated again before nightfall. During Yom Kippur it is said by each individual as a supplement to the Amidah of Maariv, Shacharit, Mussaf and Minchah. In addition it is repeated again also by the chazan during the repetition of each of the Amidah prayers.

This confessional is in alphabetical order and includes a very wide range of sins. It is not meant to be a complete and exhaustive list, but a means of introspective soul searching to discover the shortcomings of our personality as well as to set forth individual sins.

A general rule when beseeching Hashem is to ascend gradually “min hakal el hakavod” — from the lighter iniquities to the more ponderous. This is derived from King David’s phraseology in Psalms “Who can discern mistakes? Cleanse me from unperceived faults, from intentional sins restrain Your servant. Then I shall be perfect and cleansed of great transgressions” (19:13-14). (See Tur, Orach Chaim 582.)

The abovementioned procedure of supplication prompts the Magen Avraham (607:2) to raise a difficulty with some of the verses of the alphabetical Al chet. For the letter gimmel we say, “for the sins that we have sinned before you begalu ubasater — in public or in private.”

It is undoubtedly worse to commit a sin in public than in the privacy of one’s home. If so, shouldn’t the order be reversed “in private or in public?”

Due to this difficulty, the Magen Avraham suggests that the order should indeed be reversed. Hence, besatar — in private — should be mentioned before begalu — in public. Perhaps, the reason why in fact it is not reversed is because it would not sit well with the alef-beit sequence.

The Magen Avraham goes on, however, to note that the Rambam included Seder Tefilot Kol Hashanah — the order of prayers for the entire year — at the conclusion of Sefer Ahavah and in the Al chet confession prayer he only lists “for the sin we sinned before You begalu — in public” — and does mention “ubasater” — “and in private.” It is to be surmised that the Rambam was prompted to this because of the issue raised by the Magen Avraham.

A commentary in the Siddur Otzar Hatefilot opines that there is no need to alter the traditional style of the Al chet prayer for begalu — committing a sin in public — is a lesser iniquity than doing it basater — in private.

He explains it as follows:

According to Biblical law, a ganav — thief — who steals clandestinely must pay kofel — twofold. When he steals a lamb or an ox and slaughters or sells one of the animals, he pays fourfold for the lamb and makes a fivefold payment for the ox. On the other hand, a gazlan — robber — pays only the principle and is not liable for any twofold, fourfold or fivefold payments.

The Gemara (Bava Kamma 79b) says that the students of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai asked him “Why was the Torah more stringent with a thief than a robber?” He said to them “The robber equates the honor of the servant to the honor of the master. Whereas the thief did not equate the honor of the servant to the honor of his master.” That is, a robber has no fear of man, i.e. his victim, or of Hashem. A thief, however, who steals clandestinely, honors man more than Hashem, for he takes precautions not to be seen by people, but is not afraid to be seen by Hashem (Rashi).

When one commits a sin baseiter — in private — in a sense he denies one of the basic tenets of our faith, namely, that Hashem is aware of man’s actions. Thus, the perpetrator of the transgression is more concerned with man seeing him than with Hashem’s seeing him. On the other hand, the one who commits a sin begalu — in the open — does not necessarily deny this and is not demonstrating that he gives prominence to man over Hashem, because even the fear of humans, whom he has observed with his own eyes, does not deter him. Thus, doing a sin in the open is less stringent, and therefore, in our supplication it properly precedes the more stringent iniquity of doing a sin baseiter — in private.

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The foregoing entire discussion is valid only according to the popular interpretation that begalu and basater refers to two ways to commit a sin. However, today, I would like to share with you, dear friends, a novel interpretation to this passage of the Al chet according to which the entire issue raised by the Magen Avraham is moot.

As an introduction, permit me to first ask a question of my own. If the confession is for sins committed “in public and in private” than this particular verse is superfluous since all the sins enumerated in the Al chet were done either in private or in public?

This leads to the conclusion that here we are not talking about forms of committing a sin, but rather of a phenomena which is, unfortunately, quite popular in our midst. It is a behavior pattern which must be recognized as incorrect and confessed, and which requires a strong resolve to rectify and abandon.

There are people who, unfortunately, live by two standards. In public they act very frum meticulously religious — while in private they are lacking immensely in their observance. For instance, some people are very inquisitive about the kashrut at a catered affair, while in private when no one observes them, they are very lax in their kashrut standards. In shul they appear to be very religious. They criticize davening quickly or without proper thought. However, when they daven in the privacy of their home, they will run through the entire davening in an extremely short time.

On the other hand, there are those who, in the privacy of their home are meticulous in their observance of kashrut, but when going out with friends or associates they are afraid of being considered a fanatic and therefore will "cut corners" in their kashrut standards.

The problem of dual personality is not limited just to religious observance. It can be found also in marital relationships. A person may be very congenial with friends and a horror at home or vice versa. In business relations, too, one may be pious in the synagogue and unethical in business. It is easy to cite many examples, but I will rely on the introspection of the listeners to supply further relevant examples.

The proper conduct for a Jew is to be the same on the inside and on the outside. Piety should be consistent in public and in private. To live by two standards is deceit and hypocrisy, and indeed a grave iniquity and a horrendous sin.

In this Al cheit we are confessing and begging forgiveness for the sin of being hypocritical and committing the sin of having different standards “bagalu ubasater” — “in public and in private.”

May we all be blessed with the intuition and determination to live an upright life and be righteous in both our interhuman relations and also in our relations with G‑d.