Halakha of the day

כיצד מתוודה? אומר אנא ה 'חטאתי עוויתי פשעתי לפניך, ועשיתי כך וכך, והרי ניחמתי ובושתי במעשיי, ולעולם איני חוזר לדבר זה



Today we will examine the last part of Viduy which also represents the final step of Teshuba, repentance.


After an individual confesses his sins and expresses his regret and shame for what he has done, he or she must say: ולעולם איני חוזר לדבר זה "And never again will I repeat that which I did wrong." The Viduy concludes with our commitment to ourselves, expressed before HaShem, to never commit this offense in the future. 


The idea of Teshuba is that at the end of the process there will be a change in our behavior. At this time this change occurs at the level of commitment: I promise not to do this transgression anymore. The final test of Teshuba will take place when I face a similar scenario to the one in which I committed a transgression, but this time, I act differently. 


To illustrate this point let us imagine that we are talking about a person who drinks too much and gets drunk. He repents, he verbalizes his regret (Viduy) and sincerely feels ashamed of what he had done. The question is whether this man is still considering drinking in the future or has decided to leave alcohol forever. Without this determination for a changed behavior, his Teshuba process will be incomplete or even meaningless.


Of course, as explained by our rabbis, the final verification of this commitment will be tested when the individual is confronted again with the opportunity to drink. If he refrains from drinking, NOT because someone is preventing him from doing so, but because it was determined and decided by him that he won't do so, then his Teshuba is complete.


On the other hand, if one repents, confesses and is embarrassed by what she did wrong, but plans to continue with the same habit, then the process of Teshuba is not completed. 


The Sages give the following example: at the time of Bet haMiqdash there were all sorts of ritual impurities. Purification was performed by immersing in the Mikve, or ritual bath. The body of a reptile, for example, was a source of ritual impurity or tuma. Our Rabbis asked - What if someone immerses in the Mikve and emerges from its waters while still holding the dead body of a small reptile? On the one hand, he immersed himself in the Mikve; on the other hand, he still has in his hands a source of impurity! Is this individual purified or still impure? The answer is very simple: this person is still impure. The same is true, our Sages argue, with regards to an individual who does Teshuba, confesses and repents of what he has done but still holds in his mind the same thoughts that led him to act badly. He has not made the decision to stop these destructive habits that are actually the source, the cause, of his "impurity" or transgression.


Teshuba should include the decision to change. For Maimonides, bad habits are often rooted in mental disorders. I must change my thinking, my attitude. Think about the effects and consequences of my bad habits. The roots of my problematic behavior, as well as the solutions, are in my mind.                                            


Rabbi Yosef Bittón