The Torah in Parashat Ki-Tavo (26:12-15) presents the mitzva known as vidui ma’aser, requiring one to verbally avow fulfilling his various tithing obligations. This proclamation must be made in the third and sixth years of the seven-year halakhic agricultural cycle, at the time of bi’ur, when Halakha requires one to settle all outstanding tithing obligations.
A number of writers raised the question of why Chazal chose to refer to this proclamation with the term vidui, which is generally used to mean “confession.” In this proclamation, the individual does the precise opposite of confession, avowing his compliance with the various tithing requirements. Why, then, is this declaration commonly referred to in rabbinic literature with the term “vidui”?
The simplest answer, perhaps, is that offered by Malbim, who explains that the term vidui refers to any verbal account of one’s actions, positive or negative. Although we generally use this word in reference to our confession of sin, in truth, it can be used even in reference to a declaration of one’s noble and admirable actions.
By contrast, the Minchat Chinukh, in a controversial passage (607:19), drew upon the term “vidui” to arrive at a novel and surprising theory. He asserted that the entire mitzva of vidui ma’aser is restricted to the specific case of one who had been negligent in regard to one of his tithing requirements. In such a case, he must make a “confession” of sorts, declaring that although he delayed his mandatory gifts, he has now fulfilled all his obligations. However, if a person fully complied with all his requirements, then he has no need to make this proclamation.
This issue appears to be subject to a debate between Rashi and Tosefot, in their respective commentaries to Masekhet Yoma (36a). The Gemara there brings the view of Rabbi Yossi Ha-gelili that when a person brings a voluntary ola sacrifice, he should confess over the sacrifice his violations in regard to the mandatory gifts to the poor that one must give from his produce. Specifically, Rabbi Yossi Ha-gelili mentions the portions of one’s field which must be left for the needy (leket, shikhecha and pei’a), as well as ma’aser ani – the tithe given to the poor on the third and sixth years of the seven-year halakhic agricultural cycle. If one has neglected any of these requirements, Rabbi Yossi held, then he makes a confession to this effect when offering an ola. Rashi comments that the term “ma’aser ani” was added as a result of a copyist’s error, and should be removed from the text, for in truth, one does not confess ma’aser ani violations when bringing a sacrifice. Since ma’aser ani is included in the vidui ma’aser proclamation which one makes every third and sixth year, there is no need for this violation to be repeated when one brings a sacrifice. Rashi seems to work under the assumption that vidui ma’aser is recited over one’s violations, not to avow compliance. It seems that in his view, vidui ma’aser is recited when one has neglected his tithing responsibilities and now fulfills his outstanding requirements, as the Minchat Chinukh suggested, and thus this declaration indeed constitutes a confession of wrongdoing. And since it constitutes a confession, it is not repeated when one offers a sacrifice. Tosefot, however, dispute Rashi’s emendation of the text, noting that vidui ma’aser is a declaration avowing compliance, not a confession of wrongdoing. As such, Tosefot argue, there is no reason not to confess neglect of one’s ma’aser ani obligations when offering a sacrifice. In Tosefot’s view, then, this proclamation is required every third and sixth year even if one strictly fulfilled his tithing responsibilities and gave all the mandatory gifts on time, in contradistinction to the theory advanced by the Minchat Chinukh.