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'They will confess their sins and the sins of their fathers, for the treachery in which they have betrayed Me, and for having behaved towards me in a contrary manner. [Therefore] I too will behave towards them in a contrary manner, and I will bring them into the land of their enemies… perhaps then their unfeeling heart will be humbled, and they will gain appeasement for their sins' (26:40-1).
So concludes the Tochacha - the words of rebuke G-d communicated through Moses, regarding what would eventually happen to the Israelites on abandoning the Torah in the Promised Land. However traditional Torah teaching promoting Vidui (confession to G-d) as an essential element of Teshuva (repentance) does not seem to fit into the above. The first part of the above quotation states that G-d will continue to punish the Israelites, even after they have acknowledged their wrong-doings and confessed them to the Almighty. Why does G-d respond by intensifying their persecution instead of accepting their Teshuva?
Though the principles of Teshuva are scattered in the Torah, they are presented in the most detailed form in Ezekiel 18. In the context of Teshuva, G-d communicates to the Prophet Ezekiel:
How can you say the following proverb on the Land of Israel: "Our fathers ate sour grapes and the children's teeth are on edge"? …Behold (says G-d) all souls are Mine. As the father's soul belongs to Me, so the son's soul belongs to Me. It is the soul that actually sins that shall die (Ez. 18:2,4).
These words open the lengthy communication on repentance by G-d to Ezekiel, finishing with the words which are quoted within the Amidah prayer for the Yom Kippur Neilah service: 'For (G-d) does not desire to impose death… if only he will return (do Teshuva), then he will live (Ez. 18:32).
The principle made explicit by Ezekiel is that of personal responsibility and personal accountability before G-d. A person cannot excuse his conduct by blaming his background - 'it's the way I was brought up'. Those 'sour grapes' do not serve as a refuge for unacceptable behavior.
That idea gives us a new reading of the text. 'They will confess their sins and the sins of their fathers… for having behaved towards me in a contrary manner'. That confession is actually part of the sin in going contrary to G-d. For as they confess their own sins, they confess their fathers' sins. That implies blaming their upbringing for their own transgressions.
Such 'excuses', implies Ezekiel, are not repentance. They add insult to injury, by the sinner refusing to take responsibility for his faults, and shifting the blame onto someone else. Repenting on one side and blaming one's upbringing is like a person who 'ritually immerses himself for purification with a dead defiling creature in his hand'.
Thus, the Tochacha continues, only when the 'person becomes humble' (26:41) will G-d 'remember the Covenant with Jacob…' (26:42) His humility lies in taking full responsibility for his shortcomings by blaming no-one, but himself…
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.co.il/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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