Vort from the Rav: Ki Savo

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(Excerpt from Chumash Mesoras Harav)

Devarim 26:13

וְאָמַרְתָּ לִפְנֵי הֹ’ אֱלֹהֶיךָ  – Then you shall say before the Lord, your God.

This formula is known as vidui ma’asros, the confession of the tithes. Prima facie, the title “confession” is not fitting for this parashah. We know what confession stands for: we confess that we have sinned, transgressed, erred. Yom Kippur confession is an act of merciless accusation and self-condemnation. Yet in this statement there is no account of sins, but to the contrary: of mitzvos and good deeds. The Jew boasts that he has not violated even one order and that he has fulfilled the mitzvah of ma’asros to the letter: according to all Your commandment that You commanded me; I have not transgressed Your commandments, nor have I forgotten [them]…I obeyed the Lord, my God; I did according to all that You commanded me (verses 13-14). Why is this formula referred to as confession? How can the praise of man simultaneously be the confession of man?

A basic principle of Jewish thinking regarding repentance and confession is reflected in this nomenclature. Repentance is predicated on two principles. First, on the power within men to be able to accuse themselves, on their ability to think of themselves as unworthy and inferior. In our declaration on Yom Kippur, And You are justified for all that befalls us, for You have acted faithfully and we have acted wickedly, emerges the expression of self-accusation. Second, on the ability of each individual to cleanse himself, to comprehend the boundless hidden spiritual powers which are found in the human personality and which propel one in the direction of return to the Sovereign of the Universe; on the ability of man to elevate himself to majestic heights even after he has sunk into the abyss of impurity. The second principle is just as important as the first. A man obviously cannot engage in repentance if he does not have the boldness to admit that he has sinned. Without recognition of the sin there can be no regret. Yet there can be no commitment for the future if the man has no faith in his ability to rise above the sins he has committed. If he believes that he is helpless and subservient to natural, mechanical forces which pull him downward, if he is not convinced of the freedom of the human creative act—then he cannot feel his own guilt and he will not change. If man looks upon himself as an impotent creature, then the position of the sinner is helpless.

Every confession expresses itself in the outcry: I am black and I am beautiful, O daughters of Jerusalem (Song 1:5). Unless we see the “beauty” we are unable to discern the “blackness.” The sinner must view himself from two antithetical viewpoints, the nihility of being and the greatness of being. Thus the praise of man, just as his shame, is a part of confession. I obeyed the Lord, my God; I did according to all that You commanded me is considered a vidui. Man declares through the recital of these verses that he is willing to live in accord with the will of the Sovereign of the Universe, to live a life of sanctity and purity. If he has manifested his power to fulfill the will of the Holy One Blessed be He in fulfilling this mitzvah, then God has a right to demand that he demonstrate this strength under all circumstances. (Shiurei Harav Conspectus, pp. 29-30)

About Arnold Lustiger

Dr. Arnold Lustiger is a research scientist and has edited multiple volumes of the Rav's Torah, including the recently published Chumash Mesoras HaRav.

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