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By: Mrs. Rina Zinkin

It is very striking that during the final waning moments of Yom Kippur, at the climax of an entire day focused on teshuva, we do not recite a complete viduy in the Ne'ilah Shemoneh Esrei; in fact, we omit all of the “al chets” in this final Shemoneh Esrei. Instead, we add two new paragraphs – “Atah Notein and “Atah Hivdalta” – that mention viduy in a general context, as well as detailing only one specific sin: that of theft – "lema’an nechdal me-oshek yadeinu," "to withdraw our hands from all that we have taken wrongfully."


How are we to understand this shift in focus? More specifically, why do we single out the sin of theft 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 understand "theft" here to be represent all sins bein adam la-chavero (Sefer Ha-Toda'ah), a final reminder that Yom Kippur cannot atone for those sins committed against others, until we have personally appeased them.


According to the Chidushei Ha-Rim, however, 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; as Ne’ilah ends, we confess our misappropriation of our God-given talents. This viduy on "stealing" away our potential really sums up the effect of all sin. In 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, limiting our potential to reach higher levels in our observance of Torah and mitzvot. And cheit has inhibited our potential relationship with Hashem.


According to the Chatam Sofer, the rectification of this "theft" is represented by the mitzvah of etrog, to which we turn immediately after Yom Kippur. The Gemara in Sukkah (35a) tells us that the etrog tree is singular in that its fruit, the etrog, tastes exactly like the tree itself: "Ta'am eitzo u-piryo shavin.” On the third day of Creation, Hashem actually commanded all the fruit trees of the world to produce fruit that was "ta'am eitzo u-piryo shavin”; the only tree to follow Hashem's instructions, however, was the etrog tree (Rashi Bereishit 1:11, s.v. eitz pri). Perhaps, when the Torah describes the etrog as a "pri eitz hadar," lit. "a beautiful fruit," the beauty in the fruit is that it alone adhered to Hashem’s command.


The Chatam Sofer expands the concept of "ta'am eitzo u-piryo shavin" to symbolize the "beauty" of man himself. The Torah compares a human being to a tree – "ki ha-adam eitz ha-sadeh," “Man is a tree of the field” (Devarim 20:19). But the tree itself, bare of any fruits, represents only the potential of man. The "perot" (fruits) that blossom forth represent the actualization of a person, his good deeds, mitzvot, and the Torah learning he or she produces during his lifetime. When a person attains the level of "ta'am eitzo u-piryo shavin," he has succeeded in actualizing all of his potential. This, the Chatam Sofer explains, is the ultimate goal in our avodat Hashem; this is the beauty represented by the esrog; this is the beauty that we strive for as we enter the Yom Tov of Sukkot and seek to rectify all that we "stole" from our God-given potential over the past year.


This year, when we take hold of the "pri eitz hadar,” let us internalize the real beauty of the etrog – that of "ta'am eitzo u-piryo shavin. May it be the will of Hashem that the inspiration we receive from the Yamim Nora’im and the Yom Tov of Sukkot push us to attain our true potential in our avodat Hashem.




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