Rosh Hashana & Yom Kippur

For the week ending 22 September 2012 / 5 Tishri 5773

The Essence of Vidui

by Rabbi Yehuda Spitz
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I have a confession to make.

I really regret my mistake and I realize it potentially has serious repercussions. I resolve never to do it again, and to be extra careful next time this happens. What was my huge error, that I am confessing its seriousness in a public forum? Due to my negligence (and quite possibly lack of sleep) several typos have found their way into previous articles.

I sincerely apologize.

Why did I start an article like this?

Why was it necessary for me to verbally enunciate the wrong I had done? Wouldn’t it be adequate to just inform the readership that there were a few typos in previous articles, and then just correct them? It would certainly be less embarrassing! Why the necessity to confess and say the words “I was wrong?” Isn’t it enough to sincerely regret and resolve never to repeat my carelessness?

This article sets out to explore the secret power of Vidui — the confession that we repeat numerous times on Yom Kippur. Vidui is vitally important! The two steps of “charata - regret” and “kabbala al ha’atid - resolution not to repeat a sin,” are still insufficient for complete repentance without Vidui.

The Sha’arei Teshuva explains Vidui’s importance with a parable found in the Midrash (Kohelet 7:32):

There once was a group of prisoners who were in a maximum-security prison, where conditions were terrible. They were forced to do slave labor; they were tortured and tormented by their jailers. Over time they decided they must escape, so they dug a tunnel that led out of the jail. The night came when they all crawled through the tunnel, escaping to freedom. All, except for one prisoner, who did not join them. The next morning, when the jailbreak was discovered, the guards discovered the one prisoner who had remained behind. Furious, they beat the hapless prisoner to a pulp, all the while yelling at him “It wasn’t bad enough for you here? If you ‘d suffered then you would have looked for the first opportunity to escape! The fact that you stayed behind means that the conditions here weren’t appalling enough for you! We aim to correct that, starting right now!”

We are all prisoners. Prisoners of the Yetzer Hara. We sit in a dark jail called Olam HaZeh where things aren’t so hunky-dory. We are tortured by the scheming Yetzer Hara. We are persecuted by the falsehood and pain in this world. We don’t see the light of G-d’s Presence clearly and we are forced to search for him in the darkness and distraction of this world.

But then, we see a tunnel. We are given an opportunity to leave it all behind and escape to the freedom of being close to G-d. No distraction, no connection to the jail cell, to the shadows and physicality of this world.

That tunnel is the “Ten Days of Repentance” which leads us all the way out to the freedom of Yom Kippur.

Yom Kippur is the day on which we don’t eat or drink and are thereby completely disconnected from this world. On Yom Kippur we are free from the shackles that bind us to the physical world that we live in. On Yom Kippur, we are free to feel the closeness of G-d’s embrace.

The question is: Will we run through the tunnel?

Do I truly want to be close to G-d? Is that my deepest, most intense desire? If so, then when an opportunity arises where I can leave behind all that distracts me and keeps me confined to the darkness, will I jump at the chance?

Will I run through the tunnel into G-d’s embrace or will I choose to remain behind in the prison because it’s not so bad after all?

Yom Kippur is all about essence. It’s about stripping away the external and focusing on who we really are.

On Yom Kippur our neshama has its chance to proclaim that its deepest desire is to be close to its Source, to its Creator.

But what about the fact that we’re not just souls, we are human beings, with human weaknesses and failings?

That’s where Vidui comes in. When one says the words “I sinned,” he is externalizing the sin, proclaiming “It’s not me. It’s not my essence. It’s external to who I am. My essence is my G-dly neshama that wishes to cleave to G-d! The sins that I commit are not who I am!” Verbalizing them is thereby externalizing them.

Yom Kippur is a gift from G-d. The question is: Will we run through that tunnel? Do we truly desire to be close to Him? Do we feel the pain of being stuck in a world in which the Yetzer Hara enslaves us to our physical desires? Will we jump at the chance to be free of its shackles? Can we make the statement that all of our sins are external and not who we truly are?

If so, then we will merit the incredible words G-d said to Moshe Rabbeinu “Salachti Kidvarecha”- I have forgiven as per your request, and to feel the intense closeness to G-d that is truly our innermost desire.

The author wishes to thank his wife, Rebbetzin Miriam Spitz, for her insights and assistance with this article.

  • Sources: Based on The Maharal Mi’Prague’s famous Shabbat Shuva Drasha. For additional ideas elucidating the benefit of verbal confession see Sefer HaChinuch (Mitzvah 363), and Rabbi Zev Leff’s excellent Festivals of Life (pp. 80-90).

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