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High Holidays: Is There A Right Way To Do Teshuvah?
Video 4 of 4
One way that you can get at the essence of the concepts is to try talking about the concept without using the word. So, I might say to you, "Well, how do you say 'thank you' without actually saying 'thank you'?" We might also try the foot side of this, which would be: how do you say 'I'm sorry' without actually using those words 'I'm sorry' or 'I apologize'? And I think the word that comes to most of our minds is 'I appreciate what you've done'.
The word appreciate has different meanings if you look it up in the dictionary, but they all revolve around the concept of value. 'To appreciate' something is 'to recognize the value' of it. At its core, saying 'thanks' is an act of recognition; it is to recognize the value of what it is that someone did for you. It is essentially an act of acknowledgement. 'I'm sorry' is also an act of acknowledgement; it's a recognition of what I did to hurt you.
Both 'thanks' and 'apology' are a kind of recognition, but not just any old kind of recognition. Recognition of a kind of imbalance that has come into a relationship. You can view any relationship as a kind of balance. If I don't know you and you don't know me and we start a relationship together, so our relationship is in balance and relationships crave balance. Everyone hates it when they are in an imbalanced relationships. They can get imbalanced even in nice ways; and of course, they can get imbalanced in not nice ways, too.
Let's talk about nice ways that relationships can get imbalanced. You do me a favor; I move in next door, and you come over and you bring me food and you help my kids with homework and you introduce me to other people in the block - how do I feel? I am so happy, you have given me this wonderful gift. So right now, our relationship is sort of out of balance. You're up there, you gave me this gift. And I feel like I'm down here, and what do I want to do? I want to reciprocate; I want to give something back to you. Because that's going to restore balance in our relationship.
And there's nasty ways for our relationship to get unbalanced. What if I do something terrible to you, that has lasting ramifications on your life? I've hurt you, I've damaged your reputation - how do you feel? You're angry, there's a desire for revenge. What is revenge? It's tit for tat; and that's why revenge is sweet. Because I have balance again.
So the question is, is there another way to bring balance back into relationships without reciprocating? What if you can't reciprocate? What if you've done this incredible favor when you save my life and I have no way to really reciprocate that? What do you do then? How can two sides bring back balance to the relationship without reciprocation? And this is where the magic of hodaah comes in?
The act of hodaah is the way you can bring balance back into a relationship, without reciprocating. And how do you do it? You do it through recognition. When I look you in the eye and I say 'thank you' - what does 'thank you' mean? Let's get to the other word for 'thank you'. I say "I appreciate what you've done", "I recognize what you've done" - it's paradoxical, it's crazy! It doesn't even seem like it would make sense. You're actually looking the imbalance in the eye and recognizing it in the presence of the other person. And that somehow makes the imbalance go away, when the other person accepts that relationship. So if I say 'thank you' and you say 'you're welcome', we can go on again in our relationship. We're back in balance.
It's crazy! This shouldn’t even work. How can you make an imbalance go away because you've recognized it? But that's how human relationships work. Which, by the way, why it is so hard to apologize, because here you are worried; you're thinking, "The only way I can possibly make this relationship better is to sweep the problem under the rug, not talk about it. Then maybe the imbalance will go away." But that's not how you can dissonance to go away. You get it to go away by showing that you understand. I can say, "I did this. I feel terrible about this, and I understand what it is that I've done. I am sorry; because I understand." That kind of recognition heals a relationship, and that is the soul of Vidui. Vidui heals our relationships.
These relationships can get out of balance. What are you going to do? Say you're never going to accept a favor from somebody, because you can't accept the imbalance? Or, that the only way you are going to bring back balance is by taking revenge? It'll destroy everything! Hodaah' is required - that's the only way to make it work over the long term. Rabbi Abraham Twerski used to say, that the only three things you really need to know in a marriage are these: 'thank you', 'I'm sorry' and 'I admire you'. These are actually the three faces of hodaah.
In Hebrew, you use the word hodaah for all three of these things. They're ways to come in grips with imbalance. Look in the other in the eye and saying, "I understand."
Going back to the Rambam, isn't it interesting that there are four elements of Teshuvah, but only one of them is the Mitzvah? The Mitzvah part of Teshuvah is Vidui. Stand back and ask yourself, "What are the implications of that?"
Well, let's start with the other three parts of Teshuvah aside from Vidui. As we said before, they're really about one thing - 'leaving behind a sin'. But leaving behind a sin is something that I do intrapersonally. It's something I do myself at home, in my own mind. That just sets up the Mitzvah. The Mitzvah is intrapersonal - it's something that I can only do with you. The Mitzvah is 'bring balance back into the relationship'. Every sin damages a relationship. Either it damages a relationship with God, it damages a relationship with someone else, or it damages both relationships. Wrong-doing hurts. Only you can decide if you want to change your mind; there is no mitzvah to change. But if you're going to change, if you're going to turn your life around, there's a Mitzvah to change the right way. Teshuvah is not just self-improvement, it's about repairing a relationship with those who count. It's about healing the harm that you've caused. You can do that through Vidui; and Vidui, by the way, is not an easy thing to do. The words are a very simple sentence. A simple sentence that has a subject, a verb and an object - "I have wronged you." But if you compromise any one of those words, either the subject or the verb or the object, it doesn't really work. Vidui might be magic and might be like going into a Mikvah, but there's very little partial credit. If you come and try to apologize to somebody and you don't really recognize your culpability, you don't recognize the 'I'.
"I recognize that a wrong was committed to you, but I only see that I had another choice." That's not really an act of recognition. It doesn't work to rebalance relationship. If I compromise the verb, "I understand that I did something, but what I did was a mistake." You know? "I'm sorry for the mistakes that I've made." It's not about a mistake; a wrong implies real responsibility. I've wronged you. There's a subject, there's a verb, and there's an object.
If you ever want to keep it straight, just think back on the political apology. "Mistakes have been made in my administration" - no subject, no verb, no object. Who made the mistakes? I don't know - there was no 'I', there was no 'we'; they were made. We don't know who made them. And what happened? What's the verb? There was no wrong that was done, there was no sin. There were mistakes; mistakes were made. And who did they affect? We don't know who they affected. Mistakes were made; maybe they affected somebody, maybe they didn't. There's no subject, there's no verb, there's no object - there's no nothing. It's so easy to pretend you're apologizing! And it's so hard to really recognize, but when you do, you go into the Mikvah, and you can come out being able to move on again with the other person, with God.
You can't say you're sorry unless you've left behind the sin; unless you're not doing it anymore, unless you're not anticipating, unless you're not reveling in what it is that you've done - you have to leave it behind. But leaving it behind doesn't heal a relationship; only Vidui, only acknowledgement heals relationship. But you can't acknowledge unless you've let go of what it is that you've done. You put those things together and then you have real meaningful change. Change that doesn't just make me a better person, but heals our relationship and lends them vibrancy and richness, let's just go on and grow together.
We've talked about in our first video about the apparent oxymoron of Hilchot Teshuvah; it seem so contradictory - laws, objectives. Teshuvah - so subjective, so personal. Teshuvah is not just self-help; it's repairing a relationship. And when I try to repair a relationship with you, there's a right way to do this. And all of the laws of Teshuvah conspire to help you do it the right way. You can't lean when you say Vidui - why? You have to say Vidui out loud - why do you have to say it out loud? Maybe to another person, but to God? Can't God understand your thoughts?
Vidui needs to be said out loud, because that's the way you relate to someone. Vidui is an exchange - "I'm apologizing to you." And exchange means that the words have to come out of me and go to you. Thoughts aren't enough. If somebody wrongs you, it's not enough to just look at their face and kind of see that they look regretful. If they look you in the eye and say they're sorry, they've given you something. They've given you words; and when you accept those words, the relationship between you can be rebalanced, can be healed. And so the same is true even with God. To rebalance our relationship with God, we have to give Him words too. And of course, whenever you say something, it's not just what you say. It's your body language too. Most of our communication really comes in non-verbal form, in body language.
When a kid apologizes to a parent for throwing a baseball through the window, the slouching when they do so. What does his body language say? The parents can look at the kid and say, "Stand up straight and tell me you're sorry!" What do you mean - stand up straight? When I stand up straight, I take responsibility for what I've done. That's Vidui. I did this - that's the 'I'. When you lean, your body language says, "It wasn't really me entirely. It was this other thing too." You can't do Vidui when your words say one thing, and your body language says something else.
So the bottom line is this: the Rambam is actually giving us a road map here. He's helping us to see what Teshuvah is, and how it works. And Vidui done right, is right at the center of that. The words that we call Vidui have the power to change everything; and therein, lies the Mitzvah that's the kernel of it all.
Hi, this is Rabbi David Fohrman. I want to thank you so much for watching this series of videos. I really hope you enjoyed them. We're always working on new and exciting courses for you. I want to encourage you to subscribe to AlephBeta Academy. Just go to AlephBeta.org and you can sign right up. You'll get unlimited access to our library and you'll be a part of this great continuing journey.
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