One of the sins which we confess in the vidui text on Yom Kippur is the sin of “timhon leivav.” The source of this phrase is a verse in Sefer Devarim (28:28), where the Torah lists “timhon leivav” among the curses that God threatens to bring upon Benei Yisrael if they disobey His laws. Rashi interprets “timhon leivav” to mean “otem ha-leiv” – the closing of the heart. To what exactly does this refer, and what precisely are we confessing when we say we are guilty of “timhon leivav”?
The Alter of Kelm (cited in Yalkut Lekach Tov, vol. 2, p. 97) suggested an analogy to anesthesia. When an anesthetic is administered to a part of the body, the patient is incapable of experiencing any pain in that area, no matter what is done to it. The surgeon can perform the most painful procedure, but the patient will not feel anything. The Alter explained that “timhon leivav” refers to spiritual anesthesia, a condition where a person is not moved or inspired by anything. This is a state of absolute apathy, where the individual does not care and is incapable of caring. A person struck with “timhon leivav” cannot change because his heart is “closed,” unreceptive to the stimuli that would ordinarily trigger a process of change. This is, indeed, a dreadful curse, which the Torah lists together with “shiga’on” (“insanity”) – the inability to make beneficial cognitive decisions, and “ivaron” (“blindness”) – the inability to chart a safe, secure path in life. Like these conditions, “timhon leivav” prevents personal growth and development, and does not allow us to live our lives to the fullest.
On Yom Kippur, we confess to having willingly become stricken with “timhon leivav,” that we have closed our minds and hearts and lived with firm apathy. We became comfortable with who we are and the way we live, without considering the possibility that change is in order. We made ourselves immune to inspiration and impervious to new ideas. We erected mental and emotional barriers around ourselves to ensure we are not moved or stirred to change and improve. And we are committed to reversing our “timhon leivav” by opening our hearts, accepting criticism, honestly studying ourselves to identify our faults, and giving serious consideration to significant changes in our habits and lifestyle that might be warranted.