The Insincere Vidui

September 26, 2017 at 2:00 AM , , ,

“…And he shall confess upon it all the willful transgressions of Bnei Yisrael…” – Vayikra 16:21

וְהִתְוַדָּה עָלָיו אֶת כָּל עֲוֹנֹת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל – ויקרא טז, כא

One of the essential components of the Yom Kippur service – the Kohen Gadol’s as well as the individual’s – is Vidui, to confess one’s sins verbally before G-d, asking for His forgiveness.

Obviously, confession alone is not enough. In the words of the Rambam (Hilchos Teshuvah 2:3), “One who confesses verbally without resolving in his heart to abandon [sin] can be compared to one who immerses [in a mikva] while in his hand he holds a sheretz, the impure carcass of a crawling creature. His immersion is of no avail until he casts away the sheretz.”

This analogy, however, seems to give the insincere “penitent” even more credit than he deserves. Ostensibly, the value of confessing one’s sins before G-dis the remorse that the confession conveys. Absent of any intention to improve, of what worth is an admission of guilt? How can this person be compared to someone who does what it takes to purify himself, immersion in a mikva, and remains impure only because of outside influences that stop his purification from taking effect? To recite Vidui unremorsefully should be equivalent to not immersing at all!

Yom Kippur service
Evidently, Vidui is significant even when the confession is insincere. This is because the words we say inevitably resonate within our minds, and we feel ashamed and uncomfortable when they are at odds with how we truly feel. The Jewish philosophers aptly refer to the human being as “the speaker,” for our ability to communicate our true thoughts is what defines us as human. Therefore, though speech is merely a means of communicating with the outside, yet we feel an instinctive sense of discomfort when saying something that conflicts with our inner feelings.

The Rambam therefore compares insincere Vidui to immersion in a mikva, albeit while an outside source of impurity blocks the purification from taking effect. One’s verbal admission of guilt and stated remorse for his past inevitably affect him to some degree, (including a sense of shame for his insincerity.) Therefore, while forgiveness requires also committing to long-term change, yet the potential for Teshuva lies even in the very act of Vidui alone.

—Likutei Sichos vol. 27, pp. 211-213

 

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