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Vol. 20 No. 51
Esther bas Avraham z"l
and Shlomo ben Refael z"l
The Mitzvah of Teshuvah
(Adapted from ha'Mo'adim be'Halachah)
The Minchas Chinuch suggests that Teshuvah is not a Mitzvah at all. In fact he argues, it is not even a Mitzvah Kiyumis - like Tzitzis, where one receives reward for wearing a garment with Tzitzis, but is not punished for not wearing it.
Rather he compares it to a Get, which is not a Mitzvah at all. What the Torah does teach us is that if a man wishes to divorce his wife, which he is allowed to do, then he must give her a Get.
Likewise here, Teshuvah is not a Mitzvah, says the Minchas Chinuch. Only, if a person wants to make up with G-d then he needs to recite Viduy and do Teshuvah. Should he fail to do so, then he will not attain forgiveness. But in the event that he does, he is not credited with a Mitzvah.
The author bases this theory on the Rambam (in Yad ha'Chazakah), who writes 'When a person wishes to do Teshuvah and repent from his sin, he must confess'. In that case, he maintains, Teshuvah without confessing is not worse than not doing Teshuvah at all.
The ha'Moa'dim ba'Halachah claims that had the Minchas Chinuch seen what the Rambam himself writes in Seifer ha'Mitzvos, he would never have written what he did.
There he writes that 'G-d commanded us to confess on the iniquities and sins that we performed … because confession is an independent obligation, incumbent upon the sinner regarding each and every sin of which he is guilty, in Chutz la'Aretz as well as in Eretz Yisrael, irrespective of whether he brings a Korban (in connection with which the Torah presents the Mitzvah of confession) or not, as the Torah writes "Then they shall confess their sin'.
These words, says the author, leave no room for doubt as to the Rambam's opinion. Quite apart from the Pasuk itself, which gives not the slightest hint of the Mitzvah being conditional to the sinner's whim (in the way the Rambam in Yad ha'Chazakah writes), as it does in connection with Get ("and should she not find favor in his eyes, then …").
The Mitzvah of Viduy, the author continues citing the Rambam, comprises three parts - mentioning the sin, regretting having sinned and undertaking not to repeat it. (The Sha'arei Teshuvah, who inverts the order of the first two, and adds another seventeen 'accessories' that will enhance one's Teshuvah, admits that the three listed by the Rambam, form the basis of the Mitzvah).
Whether one needs to specify the sin (" … this people has sinned, they made themselves a golden calf") or not ("Praiseworthy is the one whose crime is forgiven, whose sin is hidden") is debated by the Paskim. According to the Halachah however, it will suffice to say 'In truth we have sinned' and even just 'I sinned'.
It is preferable however, to specify the sin, but not in public.
The order of 'Al Chet' (that we say in the Amidah on Yom Kipur) is not considered specifying one's sins, since it has a fixed text (and presumably the same will apply to 'Ashamnu, Bagadnu … '). And the more one draws out one's confession the better.
One more issue discussed by the ha'Mo'adim ba'Halachah is the need to pray for forgiveness. There is no mention of this in the Rambam, he explains, and even though the Sha'arei Teshuvah does talk about it, he mentions it as part of Tefilah, (one of the accessories to which I referred earlier, which enhance once Teshuvah, but which are not an intrinsic part of it). Yet, he points out, we do find such a request for forgiveness in the Tefilah of the Kohen Gadol on Yom Kipur, which we quote at Musaf of that day. Moreover, many major Poskim do mention it as an obligation as part of the Mitzvah of Teshuvah.
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Thoughts on Viduy
(Adapted from the Tosfos Chayim)
How to say Viduy
The Sh'loh writes that when reciting Viduy, one should bow down to the point that all the vertebrae in one's spinal cord protrude (as the Halachah states with regard to bowing down in the Amidah).
This sign of total humility before G-d is reminiscent of a statement of the Sha'arei Teshuvah. With reference to Rebbi Eliezer's statement 'Repent one day before you die!', which Rebbi Eliezer himself explains to mean that one should do Teshuvah every day of one's life, the Sha'arei Teshuvah comments: 'Imagine how you would recite Viduy if you actually knew that you were going to die that day. Well, that's how you should recite it every day'.
And if that is true of the Teshuvah that one performs on an ordinary weekday, how much more so is it true on Yom Kipur - where the fear of death is palpable.
Admitting to having Sinned
We precede Viduy (the confession) with the words 'In truth, we and our fathers sinned'.
This statement, the Tosfos Chayim explains, is based on the Medrash. Commenting on the Pasuk in Chukas (21:7) " … The people came to Moshe and said 'We sinned …". The Medrash explains that no sooner did the people announce that they sinned than G-d forgave them. Indeed, Chazal have said that whoever admits verbally to his sin, the angel (sent to punish him) is no longer permitted to lay a hand on him. And this is the power that 'Viduy', has - to remove from the sinner all prosecutors.
This is because G-d says to them 'You are not telling Me anything more than what the sinner himself said in his confession!'
Significantly, when confronted by the Navi, whereas King Shaul denied having sinned, King David immediately declared 'I have sinned to Hashem!' The former lost his throne, and from that moment, his life went downhill; whilst the Navi informed the latter that he would have to suffer the consequences of his actions - which is often a condition of Teshuvah, but that his sin was forgiven. His kingdom endured and he subsequently continues to go from one success to another.
And the reason that we mention 'our fathers' too, is based on Chazal, who say that when children adopt the sins of their fathers, then they are punished, not only for their own sins, but also for the sins of their fathers.
Did I Do That?
It seems obvious that we did not commit many of the sins which the official Viduy lists. Yet we say them notwithstanding. The Tosfos Chayim offers three reasons for this.
Firstly, he explains, if one did not commit the major sin, one may well have committed one of its branches. For example, he says, someone who shames a fellow Jew in public or who refers to him by a nickname that is undignified, is considered as if he murdered him. Consequently, it is perfectly appropriate to confess that one murdered.
Secondly, if one speaks Lashon ha'Ra (even if what he says is true), then his Mitzvos are added to the list of Mitzvos of the person about whom he spoke, whereas the latter's sins are added to his list of Aveiros.
It is frightening to think that one arrives before the Heavenly Throne with a list of one's achievements in this world, only to find that, instead of those Mitzvos, G-d's list contains many sins that one did not actually commit.
And thirdly, there are likely to be sins that one committed or Mitzvos that one failed to perform in a previous Gilgul (life) that still require rectification.
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