SALT - Motzaei Shabbat, June 1, 2019

  • Rav David Silverberg
            The Torah in Parashat Naso addresses the case of somebody who falsely denied stealing on oath, and then seeks to atone for his sin.  The individual in this case is required to repay what he stole along with a fine, and must also bring an atonement sacrifice.  This law was already presented earlier, at the end of Parashat Vayikra (5:20-26).  Rashi (5:6) cites the Sifrei as explaining that this law was repeated here to teach that if the victim was a convert who had no halakhic relatives, and the convert died before the thief decided to repent, the money and fine are given to a kohen.
            Before establishing the specific requirements that apply in such a case, the Torah also requires the thief to confess – “ve-hitvadu et chatatam asher asu” – “they shall confess the sin which they committed” (5:7).  The Rambam, in the opening passage of Hilkhot Teshuva, famously cites this verse as the source for the Torah obligation of repentance – to verbally acknowledge one’s wrongdoing.
            The Talmud Yerushalmi (Shavuot 1:5) draws a curious association between this verse and one of the more famous chapters of Tehillim.  Citing Reish Lakish, the Yerushalmi comments that when Moshe heard this command, that a sinner must verbally confess his misdeed, Moshe responded by reciting “Mizmor le-toda,” the 100th chapter of Tehillim, which was composed to be recited when offering a thanksgiving offering.  This chapter of Tehillim, according to the Yerushalmi, is somehow associated with the process of teshuva.  The connection between the two is indicated by the resemblance between the word “hitvadu” (“they shall confess”) and “toda” (“thanksgiving”). 
            What might be the meaning of this connection drawn by the Yerushalmi between the obligation to repent for wrongdoing, and the thanksgiving offering?
            Rav Yehuda Shaviv, in his work Heid Chozer, suggests that the Yerushalmi conveys the counterintuitive – but vitally important – message that the process of repentance must be accompanied by feelings of joy and gratitude.  We might have assumed that those who repent must feel only distressed and anguished, pained by remorse and shame.  But while certainly we are to experience these uncomfortable feelings after acknowledging our wrongdoing, at the same time, we are to rejoice and celebrate our opportunity to change and grow.  Repentance should be exciting and gratifying, despite the difficult emotions involved.  And so the Yerushalmi associates the mitzva of confession with the joyful Psalm of Mizmor Le-toda, which famously instructs, “Ivdu et Hashem be-simcha” – “serve the Lord with joy.”  The process of repentance must be joyful.  Our emotions when we recognize our mistakes and resolve to change should resemble our emotions when celebrating a festive occasion – because personal growth is, indeed, a joyous occasion, a great privilege to celebrate, and a source of great personal satisfaction.