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Yom Kippur: Is There A Right Way To Do Teshuvah?
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Mah hi teshuvah, so what is Teshuvah? Rambam says, it has the following elements in it. Hu shizov hachote cheto; on the one hand, it requires that the one who transgressed has to leave behind the wrong-doing. He can't be doing the wrong-doing anymore. And as part of that, I am going to suggest yesiro memachsavto', he has to get rid of it in his mind. It's not just that he has to stop doing it, but he can't be continually pre-occupied about doing it. v’yigmor belavo shelo yaaseho od', he has to accept in his heart that he is not going to do it again. He has to make a commitment to the future that he is not going to be doing this thing again. V’chen yitnechem al sheavar, and he also needs to regret that which he has done in the past. And here's the fourth element: v’tzarik lehitodot besaptav ulomer enainot elo shegamar belavo, he needs to confess out loud what it is that he has done to whomever it is that he has offended.
Okay, so these are the four elements of Teshuvah:azivat hachet, leaving behind the wrongdoing; kabalah laatid, deciding you are not going to do it again; yitnechem al sheavar, regret; and finally, vidui, articulating what you've done out loud and confessing it to the one you've offended. Okay, so take a moment and ask yourself: which one of these four things seems fundamentally different than the other three?
Okay, so if you said that the vidui is the one that didn't fit, then I am totally on your side. It's different because vidui is actually the only interpersonal element in this whole list. Everything else can be done by you yourself, sitting in a dark room. The only thing that actually involves someone else is confession; is acknowledging what you've done to the one you did it to. You can't do that yourself in a dark room; you actually could if the only one you've offended is God. If you didn't eat Kosher, then you can confess in a dark room; but you're still not just confessing alone. You're saying it out loud to Him. If on the other hand, you're confessing to a person that you've actually sinned to you've got to talk to that person. It is by its nature, interpersonal. So, we'll come back to Vidui and analyze it a little bit more. But for the time being, it's kind of interesting that this one element of the four that doesn't seem to fit, happens to actually be the only element of Teshuvah that the Rambam defines as one of the 613 Mitzvah. In order to understand that, we need to take a little bit of a deeper look at the other three.
I want to ask you another question here now: what's the common thread in this ideas? So, let's go through these ideas again. Azivat hachet, stopping to do the thing that's wrong; kabalah laatid, accepting not to do it again; charatah, regret for having done it. Okay, an easy way of perhaps of getting at what is the commonality in these three things might be to take a quick look at what the difference between each one of these three things are.
And what I want to suggest to you is, they are kind of different in terms of time. Think about the time frame associated with each of them. When I think of, for example, stopping to do the thing that's wrong. Does that take place in the past? Does it take place in the present? Or, does it take place in the future? When do you stop doing something wrong? Well, that's in the present; you stop doing it now.
What about kabalah laatid, accepting not to do it again? That of course, relates to the future. I'm not going to do it again in the future. And what about charatah? Well, regret of course - that has to do with the past. I regret what I did in the past. Isn't it kind of interesting? That these three elements relate to three time frames: past, present and future. Which leads to the very intriguing idea that maybe they're actually the same thing. The only thing that divides them is timeframe. Maybe azivat hachet, kabalah laatid, and charatah,are all actually the same thing. If we talk about a title for the paragraph, it's very easy to come up with a title.
It's just this one idea; the only difference between these three things is 'what time frame you are doing it in'. If you do it in the past, we call it regret. When you do it in the present, we call it 'leaving the sin behind'. When you do it in the future, we call it 'accepting not to do it again'. And now the great question is, what is this thing that's common to all of them? Let 'X' be the idea that's common to all of these once you strip away time. What is 'X'?
What I want to suggest is, the best title for this paragraph might actually be one of these elements itself, which is azivat hachet, leaving behind a wrong-doing. It's almost like, what it means to distance oneself from a wrong that one has committed, means distancing oneself in the present, distancing oneself in the future and distancing oneself in the past. When I distance myself in the present, we call it 'leaving behind the sin, no longer doing what's wrong'. When I distance myself in the future, we call it 'accepting not to do it again'. And when I distance myself in the past, we call is 'regret'. And now, why do I need to be so fancy? Why do I have to have all these elements of past, present and future?
It's a very good question; I'm going to theorize here. We live in all three of these worlds simultanoeusly. You may not think that's three; you may think, "Well, I live in the present now. I take day at a time. When the future comes, that's the future. When the past comes, that was the past. But I just live in the present." But I think the notion that we live in the present is in fact a kind of illusion. Even now in the present, we also kind of live in the future. We anticipate the future; and we reflect upon the past, and that affects our present too.
Think about life for a moment without these elements; without memory, without anticipation of the future. Locked in this eternal present - it doesn't even feel like you're being human. It's part of what it means to live in the present, to live with memory, to live with anticipation of the future. Maybe then, if that's what it means to be human, to live in all three of these states, then to really leave behind a wrong also has to relate to all these different states.
When you do all these three things, you've actually cut your ties to the wrong; I'm no longer connected to it now because I'm not doing it. I'm not connected to it in the past because I've regret it. And I'm not connected to it in the future either, because I've committed not to do it. When you do these three things, then as a human being who lives in a present, enriched by the memories of the past and anticipation of the future, you've left behind the wrong.
Okay, so now I have a challenge that I want you to think about. So much for the three elements of Teshuvah that are really one, leaving behind a wrong. What more could you ask of me? But the Rambam says, "I haven't even gotten started yet." Vidui - articulating what you’ve done, confessing it to the one that you've offended - that is the Mitzvah of Teshuvah. "What does the Rambam mean? I'm such a good guy, I've left behind the sin. According to the Rambam, I haven't really done anything."
Why? What is it that Vidui have to the mix that's not already there? Why is it so crucial? We'll talk about that when we come back in the next week.
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