HILKHOT TESHUBA 1:1. Repenting with words


אנא ה ‘, חטאתי, עויתי, פשעתי
BH in the coming days we will study together Hilkhot Teshuba, the laws of the Mitsva of Teshuba, from the book Mishne Tora of HaRambam (Maimonides) in preparation for Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur.

Teshuba, repenting for what I did wrong, is a Mitsva from the Tora. HaShem gives us the opportunity to correct, amend, retract and not be condemned forever for a mistake we made.

While repentance has to do with our feelings, since it is a Mitsva (precept), Teshuba is subject to laws and technical details that we are about to learn.

First, Maimonides explains, in the process of Teshuba there are two fundamental elements involved. One is the feeling of guilt and contrition that one must feel for what he or she did wrong. And then there is the Viduy or confession, i.e., the obligation to articulate and verbalize what we did wrong. This confession is not done in front of another person but privately before God. And the Viduy is what completes the process of Teshuba.

These two elements, repentance and confession, are mutually exclusive: on the one hand, if I confessed what I did but internally I do not regret what I did, my confession is worthless. On the other hand, if I regret what I did, but I do not articulate my regret with words, my Teshuba not considered complete. The Mitsva of Teshuba is fulfilled only when one articulates the wrongdoings (see Bamidbar 5: 6-7).

In this Halakha Rambam also explains what this confession is all about. He quotes a minimalistic version of the Viduy which contains the basic elements of it. Let’s see:

1. ANNA: “Please” …: we begin the Viduy with this word begins . This helps us understand that what we are not “entitled” to what we are asking HaShem. We are asking for His forgiveness “as a favor”, beyond the law. HaShem forgives us because of His compassion and love for us. We realize that in fact, we would deserve to be punished for our transgressions.

2. HASHEM: “God.” Here we are saying that we convey our confession directly before God. Not because He needs me to remind Him what I did, because HaShem knows our actions, our thoughts, our intentions, etc., but because I need to become aware that I’m talking in front of HaShem, and therefore can not deny or hide what I did wrong. By saying the name of HaShem I have to realize that I am before SOMEONE that I can not cheat, and I’m forced to seek and tell the truth.

3. HATATI, AVITI, PASHATI. “I was wrong, I have sinned, I rebelled …”. These three words indicate the three possible levels of transgression. Transgressions are to differentiate one from another according to the intention of the sinner.

“I was wrong”, this category includes those evil deeds I committed involuntarily, by mistake, ignorance, without full consciousness.

“I have sinned,” I confess here the transgressions that I made voluntarily, with consciousness, knowing that I was doing something wrong. And I did it because I was weak and I could not contain myself, I was not able to control my instincts.

“I rebelled,” this is the most serious level. Sometimes some people would act against the Tora not because they can not control their impulses but because they want to prove something: for example, that religion is outdated, or primitive, or that he or she is above it, etc. In this case, the sin was not made because of weakness but perhaps because of arrogance. Some people sin to make a statement, and or convey their anti-religious principles. It is important to note that although this is the most serious and offensive level at which a violation is committed, the doors of Teshuba are still open, also in this case.

To be continued…