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Parsha Ki Savo

08/30/2018 09:45:09 PM

Aug30

One of the mitzvos in the Parsha is the “biur ma’asros”- the mitzvah to clean out all tithes from the house every few years and give them to their correct places.  After doing this, there is another accompanying mitzvah, called “vidui ma’asros,” where the owner of the tithes declares that he hasfollowed all the rules of tithing- he has not cross-separated, forgotten any blessings, eaten them in a state of impurity, or given any for the shrouds of the dead.  Concluding this declaration, the owner then turns to God and asks that just as we have done what is incumbent upon us, God should look down from Heaven and bless the Jews and the Land of Israel.  Although the words in the Torah do not describe this declaration as a “vidui,” the term was coined from the ta’naim and has stuck as the description of the mitzvah.  Why is this declaration a “vidui” if there is no mention of sin or wrongdoing?  Moreover, if the owner had actually broken any rules of tithing, the Halacha is that he cannot say the “vidui ma’asros” because the rhetoric of the declaration explicitly states that all the rules were observed.  It seems that this declaration is the opposite of confession!    

There are two diverse approaches to this question that develop novel aspects of the teshuva process.  The first approach is a strict, tough loving perspective that allows the term of “confession” to extend even to positive achievements, because even our successes are fraught with inconsistencies and flawed by shortcomings.  In our relationship with God, there are very few actions that we can confidently say are pure mitzvos that are deserve credit from God.  Besides just confessing our aveiros, our mitzvos also need teshuva to mature and progress in their depth, sincerity, and level of achievement.  In the concluding prayer of the “vidui ma’asros,” we ask God to “look down” from Heaven at what we have done.  The Hebrew word used in this context for looking is “hashkifa”- literally to gaze- but Chazal note that Hashkifa connotes a critical gaze that scrutinizes wrongdoing.  (Vayshkef is used repeatedly in the context of Sedom)  Chazal explain that we mean to tell God that even if he is disapproving of our actions from his “gaze” in Heaven, the merit of fulfilling the mitzos of tithing should endure all the problems God sees.  This point supports this idea of “vidui ma’asros” being a confession because our good is also filled with bad, as that is why we conclude this confession of good by acknowledging that when God will examine our good, it may be from a “Hashkifa” judgement, and nonetheless, we ask God to see us favorably.  Almost like a child declaring that they cleaned up their room when they know their parents will find the job imperfect, we confess our tithes and ask God to forgive us for the way our good looks.  

The second idea to understand why this mitzvah is referred to as a “confession” is based on the principle that the most important tool is the teshuva process is honesty.  We approach God on the Yamim Norarim with the attitude that we were horrible and undeserving of anything in return, but that must be balanced with an honest portrayal of the good that we have done as well.  True, we could analyze all our actions critically and find some fault in everything, but do we really feel that we have done nothing good?  Can’t we forgive ourselves for not being perfect?  Are we not proud of anything at all?  The power of honesty is that only through feeling proud of positive accomplishments can we really feel remorseful about our sins, because total and absolute bad is simply not who we are.  In order to gain comfortability with saying “I have done wrong and that itself makes me undeserving of anything from God,” we also need to tell God about our good and the pride that we carry.  From this perspective, “vidui ma’asros” is the prerequisite to confession and therefore itself a part of the confession process- the acknowledgement of good that must precede the acknowledgement of bad.  

Tue, October 22 2019 23 Tishrei 5780