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Tefillat Neila on Yom Kippur

By: Mrs. Rina Zinkin

We are taught that just as Yom Kippur is the climax of Aseret Yimei Teshuvah, Neilah is the climax of Yom Kippur. Neilah is the last opportunity for sincere Teshuva, the last desperate appeal for Hashem’s mercy. It is the time when tears and fervent Tefillot can ccomplish what we’ve failed to do since the days of Elul.

The Shemoneh Esrei of Neilah is similar to the other Shemoneh Esrei’s of Yom Kippur until one reaches Viduy. Just as we are about to say all of the “Al cheits,” there are none to say. In its place, we add two new paragraphs (Atah Notein and Atah Hivdalta) that mention vidui in a mere general context, as well as detailing only one specific sin of theft – "l'maan nechdal mei'oshek yadeinu", "to withdraw our hands from all that we have taken wrongfully."

It is very striking that during the final and waning moments of Yom Kippur, at the climax of an entire day focused on teshuva, we do not recite a complete vidui in the Ne'ilah Shemoneh Esrei.

How are we to understand this shift in focus generally and, more specifically, why do we single out the sin of theft to beg forgiveness for in the closing moments of Yom Kippur? It would seem that theft is a sin that might be less commonly violated than many others that we mention throughout the day.

Some explain the sin of "theft" here to be representative of all sins bein adam l'chaveiro. And thus, it serves as a final reminder that Yom Kippur cannot atone for those sins which we have committed against our fellow man, until we have personally appeased them. (see Sefer Hatoda'ah, Eliyahu Ki Tov)

However, the Chiddushei HaRim offers another explanation, al pi drash, that carries with it a very profound and eternal lesson. According to the Chiddushei Harim, the "theft" refers to that which we steal from Hashem when we do not use the powers He gave us for the purposes He intended. We confess at the end of Ne'ilah our misappropriation of our G-d given talents. "All that was taken wrongfully" is that which we took from Hashem and did not consecrate to His purposes. And it is this vidui, on "stealing" away our potential, which really sums up the consequence and effect of all cheit. And therefore, at the final moments of Yom Kippur we shift our focus away from individual sins, and call attention to the consequence of those sins. Cheit has caused us to remain "small". Cheit has limited our potential to reach higher levels in our observance of Torah and mitzvos. And cheit has inhibited our relationship with Hashem.

At this intense, powerful time of Tefillat Neilah, let us be involved in sincere teshuva for this sin of “gezel.”  Let us recognize that Hashem has blessed us with special and unique kochot and abilities, and let us realize that we have a unique tafkid to fulfill in this world. May we be zocheh to strive to fulfill our true potential in our avodas Hashem, and commit to trying to achieve greatness.                           




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