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Parasha Insights from Rabbi Mansour

Earning Atonement for Theft

Toward the very end of the Yom Kippur service, during the Ne’ila prayer, we describe the special day of Yom Kippur as a day of forgiveness given to us by God, “Le’ma’an Nehdal Me’oshek Yadenu” – “in order that we withhold our hand from theft.”  Astonishingly, we point specifically to the sin of “Oshek,” theft, as the primary, essential purpose of Yom Kippur.  After reciting the “Viduy” (confession) several times throughout the day, listing one-by-one all the many sins of which we are guilty, we approach God at the end of Yom Kippur and say, “We want to stop stealing.”  

How many of us are guilty of theft?  Have any of us recently robbed a bank?  Why do we point specifically to this sin as the primary offense for which we seek atonement on Yom Kippur?

Some have suggested that, indeed, we are guilty of stealing – from the Almighty.  God entrusted each and every one of us with a sacred soul, a divine spark, a part of God Himself.  We were each assigned the task of caring for and nurturing the soul, by involving ourselves in Torah and Misvot.  In this sense, we have indeed stolen from God.  If a person gave us a plant to watch for him, it is understood that we must water it so that it does not wither.  But we have failed to “water” the soul, to care for it to make sure it does not wither.  Just as muscles break down when they are not worked and used, similarly, the soul breaks down when it goes unused, when it is wasted.  This is the primary sin that we are guilty of, and for which we seek atonement.  We have ignored our souls, we have not given them the care and nurturing they need.  By failing to maximize our potential in Torah study and Misva observance, we have “stolen” our souls from the Almighty.

It is customary to sound a Shofar in the synagogue at the conclusion of the Yom Kippur service.  Rav Sadok Hakohen of Lublin explained this practice as an allusion to God’s creation of man.  As the Torah writes (Bereshit 2:7), God created man by “blowing” a soul into Him.  The blowing of the Shofar after Yom Kippur is intended to symbolize the “blowing” of a new soul into the person.  It is as though God announces after Yom Kippur, “I have accepted your prayers!  I have removed your old, withered soul, and have breathed a new, fresh soul within you!”  The sounding of the Shofar is thus symbolic of the fact that we have indeed been forgiven, and have been granted a new soul to look after.

Each year, after Yom Kippur, we are given a new opportunity to prove ourselves worthy of hosting the divine spark, to show that God can now trust us with a soul, with a part of Him.  It is thus our responsibility to fulfill our commitment, and to make sure to properly care for and nurture soul, rather than allowing such a precious possession to wither and go to waste.

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Mon, October 14 2019 15 Tishrei 5780