January 14, 2021   ✦   1 Sh'vat, 5781 - Rosh Chodesh Sh'vat   ✦   Torah Portion: Vaera, Exodus 6:2-9:35   ✦   Haftorah: Ezekiel 28:25-29:21

By Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld | Series: | Level:

The confession (“viduy”) which all of Israel is accustomed [to say] is, ‘In truth, we have sinned…’ This is the primary viduy.

Sins which a person confesses to on this Yom Kippur, he must again confess to on future Yom Kippurs, even though he has remained in his state of penitence. [This is] as it is stated, ‘For my transgression I will know, and my sin is before me constantly’ (Psalms 51:5).

Last week the Rambam discussed the great sanctity of Yom Kippur, how it is the day of the year most auspicious for confession and repentance. This week the Rambam continues, discussing the viduy one recites on Yom Kippur.

There is a very basic question on the Rambam’s words this week, one posed by quite a few of the commentators. In Chapter 1, Law 1, the Rambam outlined a much lengthier confession process. It was hardly sufficient to simply say, “We sinned [by doing such and such]” and leaving it at that. The following is the text of the Rambam there:

“How does one confess? He says, ‘Please G-d, I have sinned, trespassed, and rebelled before You and I have done such and such. And behold I have regretted and become ashamed of my act and I will never return to it.’ This is the essence of confession.”

Thus, according to the Rambam there (based on Talmud Yoma 36b), to confess properly one must do much more than simply state he has sinned. Firstly, the repenter must employ a threefold language — “I have sinned, trespassed, and rebelled.” Secondly, he must explicitly state that he regrets his act and will never return to it. (See also 2:2 in which the Rambam outlined the same basic process in somewhat different words.) If so, ask the commentators, how can the Rambam here state that the accepted custom is to merely say “I have sinned?” What about the explicit statement of regret over the past and the acceptance to improve for the future?

Incidentally, this statement of the Rambam is reflected in the Yom Kippur prayer-book. Nowhere in the viduy which we recite so many times on Yom Kippur do we ever so much as say we will no longer violate these sins again — or even that we regret having done them. We simply list the sins we have done and for the most part leave it at that. Thus, in spite of the Rambam’s other statements regarding true viduy and teshuva, when it comes down to it, this appears to be what Yom Kippur is truly all about.

I believe the answer to this is that the requirements of viduy on Yom Kippur are much lower than during the rest of the year. On any other day, to properly confess to G-d, we would have to state outright that we regret our sins and commit never to repeat them. Short of that, we have not fully expunged the sins from our psyches.

Yom Kippur is different — utterly. On this day we are inherently close to G-d. We don’t have to claw our way back to Him — to proactively make the case that we are now better. It is understood. It’s Yom Kippur. We are G-d’s. As we discussed in an earlier class (1:3), on Yom Kippur man has no evil inclination. (Of course, such a statement must be qualified, as we discussed back then as well.) Man has no other drive than to return to G-d. We do not have to overcome our usual spiteful sense of resistance. We don’t have to force it. We become one with G-d naturally.

In a deeper sense, Yom Kippur is a time in which we become in touch with our inner selves. Without an evil inclination we become whom we really are and really were deep down all along. During the rest of the year we are torn — between our desire for G-d and our drive for pleasure and independence. Our evil inclination confounds us and vies for control. We are pulled in multiple directions and really do not know who we are and what we truly stand for. We spend our lives pursuing wealth, honor, popularity, pleasure, etc. — not even stopping to think if that is what we truly want out of life. Thus, to repent, we must state once and for all whom we are and which side we are on.

On Yom Kippur, however, all such doubts are removed; they vanish like the morning mist. Our outer layers of evil inclination are removed — at least for a time — and we at last glimpse ourselves in our true light. And we realize that all we really want in life is G-d. Nothing else — none of the stupid, useless things we ran after the rest of the year — really matter to us. They simply have nothing to do with what life — our lives — are truly all about.

As a result, repentance on Yom Kippur is a much more straightforward action. We need not go through a process of understanding what was wrong with out past behavior and making up our minds now to be better. It is understood: we want nothing to do with distance from G-d. We must merely state and acknowledge precisely which faults we’ve had in the past — to now be rejected out of hand.

The Mishna (Ta’anis 4:8) states that one of the most joyous days of the Jewish calendar is Yom Kippur, and as a result, maidens used to go out and “dance in the vineyards,” in full view of young men who would then select their spouses. Thus, Yom Kippur was a day in which matches were made.

To us it seems incomprehensible beyond words that on so solemn a day girls would go out dancing — and guys looking — even if for allegedly legitimate reason. Such behavior seems to run counter to everything Yom Kippur stands for.

(As an aside, my father OBM commented that certainly this must have occurred only after the High Priest completed the Temple service. After emerging from the Holy of Holies safely and the red thread tied to the Scapegoat’s horns turned white (see Talmud Rosh Hashanah 31b), the Jewish nation knew it had been forgiven and celebration ensued.)

Based on the above, however, we can well appreciate why matches were made on Yom Kippur. This is the one day of the year in which we know just whom we truly are. Prospective marriage partners would view themselves — and view each other — as they truly are within. Any other day of the year they would be tempted to seek a spouse for all sorts of external, superficial reasons. They would likewise present themselves not according to their essences but based on whatever false image of themselves they like to project. On Yom Kippur, however, all such external nonsense is stripped away. Young men and women would see themselves in their true light — and with the heightened perception of Yom Kippur would seek marriage partners who truly complement their souls.

(The above thoughts are based on lectures heard from my teacher R. Yochanan Zweig.)

Text Copyright © 2015 by Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld and Torah.org