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Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur and the Commandment of Confession

By: Rabbi Yehudah Prero

Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, begins this year at sunset on October 10, 1997 and ends at nightfall on October 11, 1997. Because our fates for the coming year are sealed on this day, we spend the entire day in prayer, repenting and asking for forgiveness.

One of the essential ingredients in repentance is confession. (see vol. I:34) The Sefer HaChinuch (Mitzvah 364) explains that the act of confessing one's sins is a Mitzvah, one of the positive commandments. The reason for this Mitzvah, he writes, is by verbalizing the sins we have committed, we are revealing our true feelings. We acknowledge that we believe Hashem knows all that we have done, and we do not feel that G-d is an unseeing eye. Furthermore, by detailing the sins we have committed and then regretting them, we are alerting ourselves to what we have done. This heightens our awareness of what our personal weaknesses are. We can strengthen our defenses against our evil inclination when it attempts to entice us to travel on the same evil path again. When G-d sees that we have reached firm conclusions about how we want to conduct ourselves in the future, and that we have taken steps to assure we do not stumble again, He happily accepts our repentance. Hashem then helps us in the difficult task that we have just begun: fighting our evil inclination.

The Sefer HaChinuch writes that the act of confession comes after one has made the commitment not to perform a certain sin again. The person must not only verbally admit to the sin; the person must also specifically say that he will not do the sin again. Confession, as part of the repentance process, only helps when the sin is an infraction of those commandments that concern a person's relationship with G-d. These commandments include eating forbidden foods, engaging in forbidden relationships, and not performing positive dictates of G-d such as the wearing of Tzitzis. When a person has committed a sin that concerns interpersonal relationships, such as personal injury, theft, or slander, forgiveness from G-d is not forthcoming, unless the aggrieved party grants forgiveness as well. Confession of the sin is part of this process, but it will not help if the perpetrator does not ask for and get forgiveness.

This commandment, the Sefer HaChinuch writes, is not limited to any time during the year. It is applicable anywhere, any time, for women and men alike. However, a person who does not confess his or her sins on Yom Kippur, a day established from the beginning of time for forgiveness and absolution, effectively nullifies this commandment. Nullification of this commandment is a sin in and of itself, and the commission of such a sin on Yom Kippur is a grave offense. Because confession plays such a prominent role on Yom Kippur, a specific confessional prayer was established in the prayers for Yom Kippur. While the formal confessional contains an enumeration of specific sins, one may add any other sins that he or she thinks of. The Chida (R' Chaim Yosef David Azulai) composed an extensive list of sins, placed in alphabetical order, that one should confess on Yom Kippur. The stress during the Confession, Viduy, is that one must be sincere. If sincerity is lacking and the confession is mere lip service, one has not fulfilled the commandment of Confession. As just mentioned, that is a serious sin.

The Confessional is not just another part of the prayer service on Yom Kippur. It is a serious statement of our regret and our belief. Preparation for saying the Confessional is necessary, if it is to be done correctly and effectively. During the days between Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur, the Ten Days of Repentance, we must review what we have done in the past year. We must make a commitment as to how we will live our lives. If we enter Yom Kippur with firm convictions, we can properly fulfill the commandment to confess our sins.

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