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Posted on September 30, 2022 (5783) By Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein | Series: | Level:

Teshuva and Kapara

Teshuva (Repentance) and Kapara (Atonement) are two different concepts. Teshuva involves our returning to Hashem through reflection, improvement and commitment. Kapara, on the other hand, is payment or a redemption for having transgressed.

Teshuva is mentioned in the daily tefilos, but Kapara is rarely mentioned during the year. That’s because Kapara involves hardships and suffering, which we don’t wish to bring on ourselves. The main exception is Yom HaKippurim, where we do ask for atonement. The fast anyway is a hardship, so we can ask that the fast should act as Kapara. (1)

Teshuva and Kapara are not dependent on each other.
The Gemara says that through sincere thoughts of teshuva, a Rasha returns to the status of a Tzadik. (2) For example, a rasha is invalid as a witness. The Early Authorities explain that a rasha who has thoughts of teshuva returns to a status of being kosher to testify. (3) No mention was made of atonement! Even though he has not paid for his crimes, teshuva alone returns him to the status of tzadik! Teshuva is effective even without kapara.

We find the converse as well — Kapara can occur on its own. In the days of the Beis Hamikdash, the avoda of the Kohein could atone for many aveiros even without Yisrael doing teshuva! (4) This simply means that one person can pay another’s debts. However, without teshuva, the rasha has not returned to the status of tzadik, even though his debt of Kapara has been paid. (5) So we find one can attain the Kapara atonement without teshuva.

The Vidui — Confession Prayer

The Torah states, “When a man or woman commits any sin…they shall confess their sin and pay…” (B’midbar 5:5-6). When Bilam was confronted by the malach, he said, “I have sinned,” and the malach did not punish him. The Jewish People, as well, confessed their guilt regarding their complaint about the mon. (Ibid., 21:7). Immediately, Hashem forgave them. The essence of the vidui is to say, “We have sinned.” (6)

Others learn that it is necessary to say three things: Chatasi, Avisi, Peshati. These refer to three categories of transgression: Inadvertent, deliberate, rebellious. (In the davening of Yom Kippur we are accustomed to add many other words to the vidui; these customs were added later (7) in order to incorporate all the letters of the Aleph Beis into the vidui.)

Why do we need to atone for inadvertent transgressions? Because had we not been careless, we wouldn’t err even inadvertently. Similarly, even if one has only erred inadvertently, he should mention deliberate and rebellious transgressions as well. There is always a concern that his “inadvertent” mistakes involved a certain amount of deliberation and rebelliousness as well! (8)

Where Does Vidui Belong?

As we have seen, Teshuva and Kapara are separate concepts. Is the Vidui more closely related to Teshuva, or does it relate more to the Kapara aspect?

There are different customs regarding vidui during the year. The Yom Kippurim tefilos, however, include many recitations of vidui in different forms.

We mentioned that the Gemara in Kiddushin states that thoughts of teshuva transform a person into a tzadik. Rav Dovid Soloveichik raised the point that vidui was not mentioned. Thoughts of teshuva turned the rasha into a tzadik, even though he had not recited vidui. Rather, vidui is an essential requirement in attaining the kapara — the atonement. That’s why vidui is so vital to Yom Kippur — the Day of Atonement.

1. Sidur Ishei Yisrael
2. Kidskin 49b
3. See Or Zarua 102. This does not refer to someone who can be tried in court. In that case, he will have to demonstrate before witnesses that he has changed his ways. Rambam, Mishna Torah, Hilchos Eidus
4. Rambam, Mishna Torah, Hilchos Teshuva 1:2
5. Rav Dovid Soloveichik, Me’orei Hamo’adim
6. Kad Hakemach, quoting Medrash Tanchuma Parshas Balak. This is the view of Rebbeinu Yerucham, Behag, Raviyah, Tur and Shulchan Aruch.
7. The Shlah, Prisha and Roke’ach disagree; their view is that the extended Ashamnu prayer was the original version of the vidui tefila.
8. Rav E. Shach, Avi Ezri, Hilchos Teshuva, quoted in Vidui K’hilchaso