Parshas Naso: Chasidic Perspectives On Why Confession Is Rooted In Theft

This week’s parsha is one of the longest and most repetitious in the entire Torah. This is due to the list of gifts the nesiim bring at the end of the parsha. While the need for such repetition requires an explanation, it is not the focus of this piece. Indeed, Naso contains many interesting and monumental events, including sotah, pesach sheini, and birchas kohanim. Perhaps the least thought of, however, is the mitzvah of vidui, or confession when one has sinned.

In discussing the laws of teshuvah, Rambam opens with the obligation of vidui — proven from this week’s parsha — upon which the entirety of teshuvah stands. Without confession, there is no teshuvah:

Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Teshuvah 1:1:
כָּל מִצְוֹת שֶׁבַּתּוֹרָה בֵּין עֲשֵׂה בֵּין לֹא תַּעֲשֶׂה אִם עָבַר אָדָם עַל אַחַת מֵהֶן בֵּין בְּזָדוֹן בֵּין בִּשְׁגָגָה כְּשֶׁיַּעֲשֶׂה תְּשׁוּבָה וְיָשׁוּב מֵחֶטְאוֹ חַיָּב לְהִתְוַדּוֹת לִפְנֵי הָאֵל בָּרוּךְ הוּא שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (במדבר ה-ו) "אִישׁ אוֹ אִשָּׁה כִּי יַעֲשׂוּ" וְגוֹ' (במדבר ה-ז) "וְהִתְוַדּוּ אֶת חַטָּאתָם אֲשֶׁר עָשׂוּ" זֶה וִדּוּי דְּבָרִים. וִדּוּי זֶה מִצְוַת עֲשֵׂה. כֵּיצַד מִתְוַדִּין. אוֹמֵר אָנָּא הַשֵּׁם חָטָאתִי עָוִיתִי פָּשַׁעְתִּי לְפָנֶיךָ וְעָשִׂיתִי כָּךְ וְכָךְ וַהֲרֵי נִחַמְתִּי וּבֹשְׁתִּי בְּמַעֲשַׂי וּלְעוֹלָם אֵינִי חוֹזֵר לְדָבָר זֶה. וְזֶהוּ עִקָּרוֹ שֶׁל וִדּוּי. וְכָל הַמַּרְבֶּה לְהִתְוַדּוֹת וּמַאֲרִיךְ בְּעִנְיָן זֶה הֲרֵי זֶה מְשֻׁבָּח.

All of the commandments in the Torah: whether they be the positive commandments, or the negative commandments; if a person transgressed any of them, whether he did so intentionally, whether he did so unintentionally, when he repents and returns from his sin - he is obligated to confess before God, blessed be He, as it says (Numbers 5:6-7), When a man or a women does any of the sins of man...and he shall confess his sin that he committed... - this refers to a verbal confession. And confession, that is a positive commandment. How does he confess? He says, "Please God, I have sinned, I have erred, I have [willfully but unrebelliously] transgressed, I have done such-and-such [specific sins], I am regretful, and ashamed for my actions, and I will never again return to my old ways." This is the essence of the confession, and anyone who wants to lengthen [his confession], this is praiseworthy.

Interestingly, while one would expect to find the primary textual source for the obligation of viduy to be in direct and real relationship to teshuvah (perhaps after a story of Moshe attempting to attain forgiveness for the nation), this is not the case. The prooftext that Rambam cites reads as follows in context:

Numbers 5:5-7:
וַיְדַבֵּר יְהוָה אֶל־מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר׃ דַּבֵּר אֶל־בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אִישׁ אוֹ־אִשָּׁה כִּי יַעֲשׂוּ מִכָּל־חַטֹּאת הָאָדָם לִמְעֹל מַעַל בַּיהוָה וְאָשְׁמָה הַנֶּפֶשׁ הַהִוא׃ וְהִתְוַדּוּ אֶת־חַטָּאתָם אֲשֶׁר עָשׂוּ וְהֵשִׁיב אֶת־אֲשָׁמוֹ בְּרֹאשׁוֹ וַחֲמִישִׁתוֹ יֹסֵף עָלָיו וְנָתַן לַאֲשֶׁר אָשַׁם לוֹ׃

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the Israelites: When a man or woman commits any wrong toward a fellow man, thus breaking faith with the LORD, and that person realizes his guilt, he shall confess the wrong that he has done. He shall make restitution in the principal amount and add one-fifth to it, giving it to him whom he has wronged.

The principle source for the obligation of confessing one’s sins derives from a situation of theft. The fact that theft is used by the Torah as the ultimate exemplar and prime example from which to teach the laws of vidui is surely not random. A number of Chasidic thinkers saw great meaning in this, and explain that there is a great deal to learn from it.

For one, the Chidushei HaRim proposes that stealing and theft is actually used here as a metaphor and representative of all sin. It is true, he explains, that humans possess free will; we have the ability to choose to do right and wrong. We do not, however, have the ability to determine what is right and wrong. Thus, we are given free will by God for a particular purpose, and when we use said free will for something that was not its intended purpose, namely sinning, this is a form of theft/stealing from God. No matter what the sin, exactly, a person commits, he or she is additionally committing the sin of stealing from God. It is for this reason, according to the Chidushei HaRim, that theft is used by the Torah as the example from which to extrapolate the laws of vidui to all other sins.

The Mei HaShiloach takes a different approach and draws our attention to an addendum of sorts that the Torah caps off the previously quoted verses with:

Numbers 5:8:
וְאִם־אֵין לָאִישׁ גֹּאֵל לְהָשִׁיב הָאָשָׁם אֵלָיו הָאָשָׁם הַמּוּשָׁב לַיהוָה לַכֹּהֵן מִלְּבַד אֵיל הַכִּפֻּרִים אֲשֶׁר יְכַפֶּר־בּוֹ עָלָיו׃

If the man has no kinsman to whom restitution can be made, the amount repaid shall go to the LORD for the priest—in addition to the ram of expiation with which expiation is made on his behalf.

What is a person to do if he stole from someone who has since died, and has no next of kin? The Torah instructs that the thief is to donate the money to the Beis HaMikdash. When returning an object to the original owner is impossible, the halacha mandates donating to the Beis HaMikdash/tzedakah instead.

In explaining why such a case is used as the primary source for vidui, the Mei HaShiloach explains that this situation can actually arise whenever one sins. A person can fall into despair at the prospect of never truly being able to make amends for, or rectify, that which he or she has done wrong. A person can know what he or she has to do, but it can appear hopeless nonetheless. After all, what good is it to give money to the Beis HaMikdash if the person stolen from will never see that money? A person can say to himself “What’s the point? Whatever correction I make today will not actually solve anything or correct any of my wrongdoings.”

The Torah, and specifically the laws of vidui, comes to repudiate such a way of thinking. There is always hope, and a person simply never knows what he or she can accomplish. There is always something to be done, always something to be corrected or fixed. If a person cannot correct the precise wrong he or she committed, he or she should correct something else instead. There is never a point that is beyond salvation, and there is never a situation in which no good can be done. This is what vidui represents, of course, and now makes perfect sense that it derives from this specific case of theft in which it seems there is no correction. The Torah here warns against such a person convincing himself that there is nothing to be done. To the contrary, he can give money to the Beis HaMikdash and that will serve as his retribution!

Indeed, there comes a time in everybody’s life in which he or she is challenged at the very fundamentals of faith. At such a time, the strongest argument the evil inclination possesses is “What’s the point?” The Torah tell us, however, that there is always a point, and that there is no point beyond return. One can always give money to the Beis HaMikdash.

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