God asked, “Who told you that you are naked? Did you eat from the tree which I commanded you not to eat?” Adam replied, “The woman that you gave to be with me – she gave me what I ate from the tree.” (Bereshith 3:11, 12)
Instead of trying to cover up his guilt, Adam should have tried to repent by admitting his misdeed. Such behavior is exemplified by King Dovid, who, when chastised by the prophet Nathan, immediately acknowledged his transgression.1 The ability to be honest enough with oneself to admit that one did something wrong and that one is to be held responsible for it is a prerequisite for repentance. If we blame anyone or anything else, or even worse, if we deny responsibility altogether, then we have little hope of ever coming to true repentance. Therefore, when praying for repentance, before mentioning any sins, there is a disclaimer, “We are not brazen enough to say that we are righteous and haven’t sinned, rather in truth we really have sinned.” These words, “in truth we have sinned,” are considered the essential part of this prayer.2
A person once told the Rambam that he had not committed any of the misdeeds listed in the above prayer. Consequently, he asked him if he was required to recite this prayer on Yom Kippur or not. The Rambam replied that if he understood the severity of Divine judgment, he would recognize that he actually had committed them.3
This idea applies even after one has confessed his misdeeds. When Adam finally confessed his misdeed, he said “I ate from the tree, and I will eat from it again.”4 How could Adam speak to God in such an audacious manner? As long as a person is unable to acknowledge that his defenses must have been weakened in order for him to commit a transgression, he will never be able to repent properly. It is only after he recognizes that in the current situation he is capable of succumbing again that he will be able to strengthen himself to overcome future obstacles. Adam was merely stating that since nothing in the situation had changed, he was in danger of repeating his previous transgression.5
1 Seforno on Bereshith 3:12.
2 Rambam Mishneh Torah – Laws of Repentance 2:8.
3 Chida-Midaber Kadmuth 6:11.
4 Bereshith Rabbah 19:92.
5 Ohel Torah of the Kotzker Rebbe on Bereshith 3:11, 12.
Text Copyright © 2008 by Rabbi Daniel Travis and Torah.org