Yom Kippur and Man's Inner Light
Chapter 2, Law 8(a)
"The confession ("viduy") which all of Israel is accustomed [to say] is, 'In
truth, we have sinned...' This is the primary viduy.
"Sins which a person confesses to on this Yom Kippur, he must again confess
to on future Yom Kippurs, even though he has remained in his state of
penitence. [This is] as it is stated, 'Because my transgression I will know,
and my sin is before me constantly' (Psalms 51:5)."
Last week the Rambam discussed the great sanctity of Yom Kippur, how it is
the day of the year most auspicious for confession and repentance. This week
the Rambam continues to discuss the viduy one recites on Yom Kippur.
There is a very basic question on the Rambam's words this week, one posed by
quite a few of the commentators. In Chapter 1, Law
1, the Rambam outlined a much lengthier confession process. It was
hardly sufficient to simply say, "We sinned [by doing such and such]" and
leaving it at that. The following is the text of the Rambam there:
"How does one confess? He says, 'Please G-d, I have sinned, trespassed, and
rebelled before You and I have done such and such. And behold I have
regretted and become ashamed of my act and I will never return to it.' This
is the essence of confession."
Thus, according to the Rambam there (based on Talmud Yoma 36b), to confess
properly one must do much more than simply state he has sinned. First of
all, the repenter must employ a threefold language -- "I have sinned,
trespassed, and rebelled." Secondly, he must explicitly state that he
regrets his act and will never return to it. (See also 2:2 in which
the Rambam outlined the same basic process in somewhat different words.) If
so, ask the commentators, how can the Rambam here state that the accepted
custom is to merely say "I have sinned?" What about the explicit statement
of regret over the past and the acceptance to improve for the future?
Incidentally, this statement of the Rambam is reflected in the Yom Kippur
prayerbook. Nowhere in the viduy which we recite so many times on Yom Kippur
do we ever say so much as that we will no longer violate these sins again --
or even that we regret having done them. We simply list the sins we have
done and for the most part leave it at that. Thus, in spite of the Rambam's
other statements regarding true viduy and teshuva, when it comes down to it,
this appears to truly be what Yom Kippur is all about.
I believe the answer to this is that the requirements of viduy on Yom Kippur
are much lower than during the rest of the year. On any other day, to
properly confess to G-d, we would have to state outright that we regret our
sins and commit never to repeat them. Short of that, we have not fully
expunged the sins from our psyches.
Yom Kippur is different -- utterly. On this day we are inherently close to
G-d. We don't have to claw our way back to Him -- to proactively make the
case that we are now better. It is understood. We are reconnected. As we
discussed in an earlier class (1:3), on Yom
Kippur man has no evil inclination. (Of course, such a statement must be
qualified, as we discussed back then as well.) Man has no other drive than
to return to G-d. We do not have to overcome our usual spiteful sense of
resistance. We don't have to force it. We become one with G-d naturally.
In a deeper sense, Yom Kippur is a time in which we become in touch with our
inner selves. Without an evil inclination we become who we *really* are --
who we really were deep down all along. During the rest of the year we are
torn -- between our desire for G-d and our drive for pleasure and
independence. Our evil inclination confounds us and vies for control. We are
pulled in multiple directions and really do not know who we are and what we
truly want. We spend our lives pursuing wealth, honor, popularity, pleasure,
etc. -- not even stopping to think if that is what we truly want out of
life. Thus, to repent we must state once and for all who we are and which
side we're really on.
On Yom Kippur, however, all such doubts are removed; they vanish instantly.
Our outer layers of evil inclination are removed -- at least for a time --
and we at last glimpse ourselves in our true light. And we realize that all
we really desire in life is G-d. Nothing else -- all of those stupid,
useless things we ran after the rest of the year -- *really* matter to us.
They often have nothing to do with what is truly important to us.
As a result, repentance on Yom Kippur is much more straightforward action.
We need not go through a process of understanding what was wrong with out
past behavior and making up our minds now to be better. It is understood: we
want nothing to do with distance from G-d. We must merely state and
acknowledge precisely which faults we've had in the past -- to now be
rejected out of hand.
The Mishna (Ta'anis 4:8) states that one of the most joyous days of the
Jewish calendar is Yom Kippur, and as a result, maidens used to go out and
"dance in the vineyards," in full view of young men who would then select
their spouses. Thus, Yom Kippur was a day in which matches were made.
To us it seems incomprehensible beyond words that on so solemn a day as Yom
Kippur girls went out dancing and guys went out looking -- even if for
allegedly legitimate reason. Such behavior *seems* to run counter to
everything Yom Kippur stands for.
(As an aside, my father OBM commented that certainly this must have occurred
after the High Priest completed the Temple service. After exiting the Holy
of Holies safely and the red thread tied to the Scapegoat's horns turned
white (see Talmud Rosh Hashanah 31b), the Jewish nation knew it had been
forgiven and celebration ensued.)
Based on the above, however, we can well appreciate why matches were made on
Yom Kippur. This is the one day of the year in which we know just whom we
truly are. Prospective marriage partners would view themselves -- and view
each other -- as they truly are within. Any other day of the year they would
be tempted to seek a spouse for all sorts of external, superficial reasons.
They would likewise present themselves not according to their essences but
based on whatever false image of themselves they like to project. On Yom
Kippur, however, all such external nonsense is stripped away. Young men and
women would see themselves in their true light -- and would seek marriage
partners who truly complement their souls.
(The above thoughts are based on lectures heard from my teacher R. Yochanan
Zweig (www.talmudicu.edu & www.torah.org/learning/rabbizweig).)
Text Copyright © 2011 by Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld and Torah.org