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Commentary to Vidui Part One

There are two basic goals that we must keep in mind when reciting the confessions; One that we are aware of all our sins, and the other that we understand what inside of us allows us to fall in these ways and so often. We are looking for the illness, not just the symptoms . This is why we say two confessions in the Yom Kippur Shmone Esrei; Ashamnu Bogadnu and Al Cheyt. The former is a more general confession, the latter is more specific. However, even the Al Cheyts cover all conceivable mistakes. The purpose of the Ashamnu confession is to focus on causes and effects of chataim rather than a list of the Aveirot themselves.

We have been destructive , damaging ourselves spiritually , not even necessarily aware of the damage we have caused ourselves , and in so doing have made it difficult to change and improve ourselves.

The consequences of a sin are refered to as its אשם, as in Avimelech saying to Yitzchak , who lied about his relationship with Rivka because of his suspicions regarding Avimelech, “And you would have brought a sin/אשם/punishment against us.” The אשם sin leads directly to its consequence. Its fruit are punishment. It creates destructive forces.

Yosef’’s brothers also refered to the destructive effects of a sin as אשם. When they were told that Yosef would hold one brother in Egypt until the others returned with Binyamin, they said, “Truly, we are guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he cried out to us, and we would not hear.” According to the Radak on this story, this verse is the source of the concept; “One who is suffering should search his deeds for the reason.” This would only be true if there is an element of אשם in every sin; If whenever a person suffers he should look for the reason hinted to by his suffering , and suffering directly related to a sin is אשם, then every sin must contain some אשם! When we say אָשַֽׁמְנוּ we are acknowledging that every one of our sins has been destructive and has consequences.

(It is important to note that there are important differences between punishments and consequences. Death was a consequence of eating from the Tree of Knowledge. Working the land by the sweat of our brow was a punishment.)

In the Book of Ezra we find another dimension to Asham. The Beit Hamikdash had begun to be rebuilt, a large group of Jews returning from Bavel had survived attacks from enemies and things seemed to be going well. At this point leaders of the people came to Ezra and told him that, “The people of Israel, and the Kohanim, and the Leviim, have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands…Fot they have taken of their daughters for themselves and for their sons…indeed, the hand of the princes and rulers has been chief in this crime.” At this point Ezra is crushed; “And when I heard this thing, I rent my garment and my mantle, and plucked off the hair of my head and my beard, and sat down appalled…I fell upon my knees, and spread out my hands to God, my Lord, and said, ‘O my Lord, I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face to You..for our iniquitiesare increased over our head, and our guilt/ואשמתנו has mounted to the heavens. Since the days of our fathers we have been exceedingly guilty/באשמה גדלה to this day…”

As Ezra continues it becomes obvious that he feels that no matter how much they have succeeded up to this point, they could not possibly overcome their guilt/אשם, and continue to succeed. The effects of an אשם are so devastating that they can undo accomplishments and prevent further success. When we say אָשַֽׁמְנוּ we are saying that our sins are limiting our growth and can undo even what we have already accomplished.


We have been deceitful , and have betrayed ourselves , and in so doing have broken away from our true selves .

When a man buys a Jewsih girl from her father the purchase money is actually an act similar to Kiddushin, or engagement, because the assumption is that the master will marry the girl when she comes of age. If he does not intend to marry her he is called a בוֹגֵד, one who has dealt deceitfully with her, and he has broken the link between himself and the woman.

The Vilna Gaon says that a בוֹגֵד is one who leads someone to believe something, only to dissappoint him. The worst of all בוֹגְדִים is the Yetzer Harah who promises all sorts of wonderful things to someone in order to induce him to sin. He often promises mitzvot, such as, “You will have plenty of time to learn Torah later.” Later on the Yetzer Harah will criticise the man and make him feel guilty for not learning, using the guilt to hurt himself.

We even find that the Yetzer Harah is called a בוֹגֵד when he induces people to reach so high in their spiritual lives that it is impossible for them not to fall. In one of the battles that Shaul led against the Pelishtim he swore that no one should eat until the enemy had been defeated. The king put his people in a terrible situation because they were exhausted from battle, and they needed to eat. In fact, in הלכה there are fewer strictures than at other times, not more. He pushed his people too hard in order to deserve and to acknowledge God’s help in their miraculous victory. At first, they held to Shaul’s oath. Yonatan, the king’s son, who was unaware of his father’s oath pushed everyone to eat. They did, but only after sanctifying their animals as sacrifices, in order to maintain their great spiritual heights , and they ended up eating the animals before the blood was thrown on the Mizbeach. They were pushed to great heights, only to sin a terrible sin. This is seen as the work of the Yetzer Harah . When Shaul learns of their sin he calls them בוגדים, not only because they were sinning after God had granted such a great victory , but also because their push to live at too high a level caused them to sin.

When we say בָּגַֽדְנוּ we are also acknowledging that at times we push ourselves so hard that we cause ourselves to fall. This too is related to not being true to our selves.

(see שערי תשובה דף לז עג על נרגן)
We have taken that which has belonged to others and caused ourselves to lose what is ours.

While most of us would say that we would never take something that belongs to someone else, we are probably still guilty of stealing. For example, convincing someone to buy something from that they really don’t want or need , eating at the home of someone who can’t afford to host us ,going against the wishes of a host , tricking someone, depriving them of sleep, preventing them from learning, denying them the honor they deserve, or even taking away their privacy.

When people come home to find themselves robbed they feel violated, as do all the people who lose something precious such as sleep etc. Just think about how people feel when someone cuts them off on the highway. Causing someone to feel violated in such a way is causing them to lose part of their life . We are so casual about our interactions that it is impossible not to deprive people of something at different times. Even the chance to speak, or daven. Such insensitivity causes us to lose part of ourselves; Our Tefilot lose their effectiveness . Famine comes to the world . We lose some of our connection to Hashem . We forfeit our awareness of what belongs to whom. Eating without a Brachah is like stealing from Hashem and the Jewish people .

The Gemara even considers the urge to steal similar to the urge for adultery . We have a basic urge to take and make the world our own. God is the Adon HaKol, the Master of Everything, the Konei HaKol, the owner of everything. When we take something that is not ours we are, to one degree or another, rejecting God’s Adnut . Any time that we insist on indulging ourselves, against God’s wishes, we are being gazlanim, we are using God’s world without His permission.

In Gazalnu we are acknowledging our misuse of God’s world, and of that which belongs to others.

There are two types of Yetzer Harah; the one fights openly. The other hides until the person is unaware of his presence. It lulls the person to sleep so that he is not ready to fight his Yetzer Harah. The name of this form of the Evil Inclination is צפוני , or the one who hides. This yetzer is the biggest thief of all . גזלנו includes those times that we are caught napping, when we allow our spiritual senses to be dulled.

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