Talmidav Shel Aharon
05-5767 Mitzvah 33
November 13, 2006
Mitzvah 33 – It is a positive commandment that a sinner should turn back from sin and should confess the misdeed before G-d.
Hafetz Hayyim: As it says in Scripture: “When a man ore woman commit any sin … then they shall confess their sin (Bamidbar 5:6-7) This means an avowal in words before G-d. He is to say from the depths of his heart, “I beseech you G-d: I have sinned, done wrong, and acted criminally before you. This-and-this I did (and here one describes the sin in detail) and here I have regretted my deed and become ashamed of it. Never will I go back and do this again” The main element is remorse in the heart, over the past and one must take it upon himself not to do such a thing ever again. This confession is the essential part of repentance; but the more one confesses, the more praiseworthy he is. Even death and the confession on Yom Kippur, however, bring no atonement and forgiveness unless they are with repentance. This is in effect at all times and it every place for both males and for females.
This is the kind of Mitzvah, confessing sins, that most people don’t really attach themselves to and prefer not to think about. It is easy to see why. We don’t like to admit our mistakes and we don’t like to say out loud that we may be wrong, let alone confess that we really messed up. We would rather our errors disappear and be forgotten and we thus would not have to face them and worry about them ever again. I was once told that Oliver North, the man behind the Iran-Contra scandal during the Regan Administration, tried very hard to cover his tracks while he was diverting money against the directions of Congress. He thought that he had erased all record of the transactions from his computer, never knowing that the National Security Agency had a mainframe computer in the basement that recorded and stored all transactions made on the agency’s computers. Oliver North commented during the trial that “We thought we had eliminated all traces of our work, clearly we were wrong” In a similar way, we have this almost childish dream that no one will notice our mistakes and we will not have to face up to them. The fact is that we do have to face them, and we need to face our Creator too, as if G-d were an eternal parent.
The anatomy of repentance involves many steps. First there must be a realization that we have done something very wrong. We have to first admit to ourselves that we have made a mistake and we need to take action to repair what we have done. Second we need to confess to the person we have offended or hurt directly and honestly. We need to make a formal apology and make whatever restitution is necessary to secure that person’s forgiveness. (We also need to be forgiving of others who may have offended us. Judaism says we have to ask for forgiveness three times. If we are turned away without it three times, the problem becomes one of holding a grudge, a serious sin, on the unforgiving party) We can not have G-d forgive us if we have not faced the offended party. Once the person we have offended has forgiven us, we need to be forgiven by G-d. We need to make our oral confession, not for G-d’s sake; G-d already knows the sins we have done; rather we need to confess out loud our sins and resolve never to do them again as part of a regimen that will help us keep from repeating our mistakes. G-d is compassionate and we can be assured of being forgiven unless we go back and do the same sin over and over again. If we keep doing the same sin and then confessing before we do it again, eventually G-d will figure out that our confession is not sincere.
One should confess sins every day, so that we do not carry a burden of sin with us wherever we go. The two most important times for this kind of confession is on Yom Kippur and on the day of our death. Both have a special confession that should be recited to make sure that all sins, even those we may have forgotten, are properly addressed so we can move forward, in this world and in the world to come, without the baggage of sins weighing us down.Remember, confessing and repenting our sins is not just for others or for G-d. It is something we can do for ourselves to put our past behind us, to confront our mistakes and the times we delude ourselves into thinking that what is wrong could be right, and then move on with our lives free from the worry that someday, our past will catch up with us.