Shabbat Parshat Naso
The Children of Israel’s camp is organized for entry into the land, with the Mishkan placed at the physical and conceptual center. The census of the tribe of Levi, who are responsible for the functioning of the Mishkan, is completed (4:21-49). Then follow a number of mitzvot, all associated, in some way, with the Mishkan and the divisions of the tribes. One section deals with the laws of theft, which can involve sacrifices and the transfer of property to the Kohanim. This section begins with the consequences of the thief being discovered:
And Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying: “Speak to the Children of Israel: Any man or woman who shall commit (KI YA’ASU) any of the sins of man (MIKOL CHATOT HA’ADAM), trespassing (LIM’OL MA’AL) against Hashem, and that soul shall be guilty. Then they shall confess (V’HITVADU) their sin that they have done, and repay his guilt of the principal amount, and add to it a fifth, and give it to the one whom he wronged” (Bamidbar 5:5-7). This is the source of the mitzvah of confession (VIDUI) for all sins.
VIDUI has been mentioned before (Vayikra 5:1-5; 16:16); in addition, the Oral Torah identifies other references to VIDUI, for example: And Aharon shall bring near his sin-offering bull, and he shall atone on behalf of himself and his household (Vayikra 16:6). (See also Sifra, Acharei Mot 1:2; and Yoma 36b, 87b.) This raises the question: what does the Torah add by discussing VIDUI now?
Basing himself on the Rambam (Book of Commandments, Positive Commandment § 87), Sefer HaChinuch (ascribed to either R. Aharon HaLevi or R. Pinchas HaLevi of Barcelona, mid-13th Century, § 364) explains that earlier references to VIDUI were more localized, whereas our passage extends the obligation to confession of all sins. To this end, he quotes a number of halachic midrashim for support. Those other passages obligated VIDUI for specific sins, or when offering a sacrifice, or on Yom Kippur; our passage now extends the principle of VIDUI to all sins. In addition, those other references were concerned with confessing to violating negative commandments, whereas who shall commit (KI YA’ASU) teaches that one must confess to ignoring positive commandments as well. Also, since the immediate context of our passage is about stealing, any of the sins of man (MIKOL CHATOT HA’ADAM) extends VIDUI to all sins between man and his fellow-man (but only after appeasing the wronged person). Additionally, from the words trespassing (LIM’OL MA’AL) we learn that one who is about to be executed for his crimes should confess. Finally, this passage teaches us that VIDUI is to be counted as a separate mitzvah, independent of sacrifice: Even though one is bringing a sacrifice for his sins, that is not enough; he must also confess. From our passage we learn that VIDUI is necessary for all sins, at all times.
Of course, VIDUI is not a mechanical act; it must be accompanied by repentance. Malbim (R. Meir Leib ben Yechiel Michael, 1809-1877) says the essential meaning of VIDUI is admission, the opposite of denial. This can be either: a) a declaration, a refusal to repudiate, of a claim made against one; or b) an admission of another’s superiority. This declaration is necessary, because acknowledgement is not self-evident: People generally do not want to admit someone else’s pre-eminence, and they find excuses for their faults.
Rambam, (Laws of Repentance 1:1) describes VIDUI: Regarding every commandment of the Torah, whether positive or negative: if a person has transgressed any of them, whether intentionally or inadvertently, then when he repents and turns away from his sin, he is obligated to confess before G-d, may He be blessed. This is as it is said, Any man or woman who shall commit, etc., Then they shall confess (V’HITVADU) their sin that they have done: This is confession in words, which is a positive commandment. How does one confess? He says, “O G-d! I have erred, sinned and rebelled before You, and I have done so-and-so. Behold I regret and am ashamed of my actions. I will never repeat this thing.” This is the essence of confession. One who confesses a great deal and elaborates on this is praiseworthy. He says further (2:5): Regarding sins between man and the Omnipresent, one does not need to publicize himself; it would be arrogance for him to reveal them. Rather, he repents before G-d, may He be blessed, and specifies his sins before Him.
As Rav Joseph B. Soloveichik (1903-1993; Harerei Kedem 41; Al HaTeshuvah pp. 37-65) says, a close reading of Rambam reveals an indispensable element of all VIDUI: that it be “before Hashem”: (1:1) to confess before G-d, may He be blessed. (2:5) he repents before G-d, may He be blessed It is not enough for a person to admit his sin, “as if G-d, as it were, were obligated to hold the gate open for him.” He must first seek to gain entry before Hashem. In other words, VIDUI must be part of the total experience of prayer (this concept originates in Imrei No’am on Berachot 3b, by GRA, R. Eliyahu ben Shlomo Zalman, 1720-1797; see also Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 607:1). Moreover, the one who confesses must know that he must satisfy only Hashem, and no one else. The repentance too – without which VIDUI is meaningless – is done “before Hashem.” This is because every sin was committed in the Presence and awareness of Hashem: (1:1) He says, “O G-d! I have erred, sinned and rebelled before You (2:5) and specifies his sins before Him. Sin occurred “before Hashem,” at a time when Hashem was close, but the sin created a distance that the penitent begs to bridge.
Usually we discuss VIDUI on Yom Kippur, the day especially set aside for VIDUI and repentance. However, our portion is the source for the universal, year-round dimension of VIDUI. What is more, with Shavuot approaching this week, it is also appropriate to improve our ways in preparation for the Divine gift of theTorah.