by HaRav Zev Leff
Rabbi Leff's website: www.rabbileff.net
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Beset by many evils and troubles, the will say, "It is because Hashem is no longer with me that these evil things have befallen me." On that day I will utterly hide My face because of all the evil that they have done...(Devarim 31:17-18).
Rambam says that this admission of guilt and regret is still not a full confession, and therefore Hashem continues to hide His face. But the hiding is different: no longer is it a hiding of Hashem's mercy, allowing evil to befall them, but rather a hiding of the ultimate redemption. That change in Hashem's relationship contains a hint to their ultimate redemption when their repentance is complete.
To better understand this Rambam, we must first understand the function of verbal confession in the teshuvah process. Sefer Hachinuch (Mitzvah 363) offers two explanations of the benefit of verbal confession. First, verbalizing one's repentance creates the feeling of conversing with a second party, which, in turn, sensitizes a person to the reality of Hashem's presence, Hashem's awareness of his every deed, and the need to render an account before Hashem. The greater a person's awareness that his sin was one in Hashem's presence, with His full knowledge, the greater His shame and regret.
Secondly, verbal expression intensifies the process and leaves a more lasting effect.
In addition to regret over the past, teshuvah also requires a commitment not to repeat the sin again. That commitment must be so decisive, resolute, and firm that Hashem Himself can testify that at the moment of confession, the sinner does not contemplate ever committing that sin again. Just as a vow to do or not to do something in the future requires verbal expression, so, too, does the commitment not to repeat past sins.
Sefer Yereim specifies another dimension to verbal confession -- supplication for atonement. There must be a clear recognition of the seriousness of the damage caused by the sin, both in terms of the damage to one's soul and one's relationship to Hashem, and in terms of the effect on the world by closing the conduits of blessing. For this, one must entreat G-d to forgive, heal and repair the damage. Just as prayer and supplication must be verbalized to establish a feeling of communication, so, too must one's entreaty for atonement.
There is yet another aspect of confession that relates to the nature of sin itself. Sin, says the Maharal, is one neshamah of the Jew. It cannot blemish the neshamah itself. Rather it superimposes layers of impurity that separate one from his essence. Since the Jew's connection to Hashem is through that untainted essence, when he becomes distant from his essence, he also becomes estranged from Hashem.
Teshuvah, then, is the return of the Jew to his essence and the breakdown of the barriers that separate him from Hashem. Hashem does not leave the Jew when he sins; rather the Jew loses contact with Hashem, Who still resides within the essence of his soul. As Chazal say on the verse, "I am asleep, but my heart is awake" (Shir HaShirim 5:2), my heart refers to Hashem. Though the Jew sleeps and loses consciousness of Hashem, Hashem still occupies his heart.
By articulating his sin in vidui, the Jew makes it something external to himself. Then he is able to detach those layers of sin that have accreted on his neshamah. Vidui itself becomes an act of purification. Thus, Targum Yonasan translates the word "purify" in the verse "Before Hashem should you purify yourself" (Vayikra 16:30), as "confess." The confession is itself the act of purification.
It is this last aspect of full vidui which is lacking in the confession, "Because G-d is not with me, all these misfortunes have befallen me." Although this statement expresses regret, recognition of the devastation resulting from sin, and even hints to a commitment to avoid this state in the future, it is still lacking. There is no recognition that it is not G-d Who has deserted us, but we who have become detached from ourselves and therefore from Hashem.
When a Jew feels Hashem has abandoned him, says Sforno, he gives up hope, since he thinks that it is G-d Who must first return. But in truth it is man who has strayed from his essence, and he can find G-d where he originally left Him. Teshuvah is thus literally redemption: "Return to Me for I have redeemed you" (Yeshayahu 44:22). One redeems his untainted essence from the layers of sin and impurity that encrust it.
As long as we fail to comprehend this aspect of redemption, G-d continues to hide the face of redemption from us. When we appreciate all the aspects of vidui, including that recognition that Hashem remains where He always was, waiting for us to strip away the barriers, we can look forward to both personal and national redemption.
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