May 31, 2016
Rabbi H. Greenberg in #1023, B'Chukosai, B'Har-B'Chukosai, Parsha Thought

Two sections of the Torah are extremely difficult to read with their harsh rebukes of the Jewish people. The first such passage is in this week’s parsha, B’Chukosai.
After detailing the suffering that will befall the Jewish people when they sin, the Torah continues:
They will then confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers, their betrayal that they dealt Me, and that they also treated Me as happenstance.
Then I too, will treat them as happenstance and bring them into the land of their enemies. If then, their clogged heart becomes humbled, then, [their sufferings] will gain appeasement for their iniquity.
Commentators are puzzled by the fact that after the sinners confess their iniquity, G-d will still punish them by bringing them into the land of their enemies. Why would G-d not accept their confession?
Some commentators answer that their confession was not sincere or incomplete. Confession of one’s sins is only as sincere as the feeling of contrition that is behind it.
The difficulty with this explanation is that the Torah does not hint of any insincerity or deficiency of their confessions.
Commentators ask a second question: Why does the Torah state that they will confess the sins of their fathers in addition to their own sins?
The work Divrei Yoseph explains that by confessing the sins of their fathers, they were attempting to raise a defense of their own sins to have their punishment mitigated somewhat. Their defense was that they were raised by parents in a sinful environment.
However, finding a defense for our sins on the premise that we may have been influenced by our forebears can only be used when the iniquity relates to moral lapses. Parental debasement can be passed on to the next generation. However, lapses in ideology and faith are not hereditary.
Hence, when we confess our sins and invoke the iniquity of our fathers, it is only an effective defense when dealing with sins generated by moral turpitude. Lack of faith, such as not believing that G-d is involved in our lives and that all events transpire by happenstance, cannot be excused by referring to the same attitude of the parents.
Thus, the Torah states that adding their father’s sins to their own in their confession would not help them because they were guilty of both moral and theological sins. Since their defense was undermined by this argument, they would have to undergo further suffering/education to understand that everything happens by Divine Providence.
One may approach the two questions on a deeper level. In truth, the strategy of using one’s forebears as an excuse for one’s own iniquity must fail for any form of iniquity, moral or ideological.
When a person confesses his sins, he cannot make excuses for them. Standing before G-d is not a time to try to offer justification for one’s crimes. One must be brutally honest before G-d and admit that his sin was totally his fault. While we should find ways of defending others, it is ill advised to do the same when we seek atonement from G-d for ourselves. We must not try to whitewash or diminish the severity of our sin if we want our confession to erase our sins.
Focusing on their father’s sins could be understood as an attempt to “sneak in” some hint of justification for their iniquity. They might be intimating to G-d, “Don’t blame us fully for our sins. It is not entirely our fault that we transgressed. After all, we were influenced by our fathers.” While this argument has some merit, it is not a good idea when we hope to be completely cleansed and forgiven.
The premise that it is improper to mention the sins of our fathers in our confession seems to be contradicted by the very text of confession we recite in our daily prayers:
“Our G-d and G-d of our fathers, may our prayers come before You, and do not turn away from our supplication, for we are not so impudent and obdurate as to declare before You, L-rd our G-d and G-d of our fathers, that we are righteous and have not sinned. Indeed, we and our fathers have sinned.”
It is clear from this prayer that it is indeed proper to confess our sins as well as the sins of our fathers. Why then, in our parsha, would mention of their fathers’ iniquity indicate that their confession was insincere or incomplete?
Perhaps the answer may be found in the continuation of the confessional prayer, where we refer to 24 expressions of the sins we may have committed: “We have transgressed, we have acted perfidiously…” No further mention is made of our forebears’ sins. It follows then that if the defense based on our father’s sins is followed by a brutally honest and unqualified confession of our own sins, the earlier confession of our father’s sins is not seen as intent to whitewash our own. On the contrary, it is intended to remove the defense that G-d should ignore our iniquity for the sake of our righteous forebears, for they too were iniquitous.
Alternatively, some suggest that by confessing our fathers’ sins we bring them a measure of atonement.
The Chassidic classic Panim Yafos explains (based on the writings of the Ari and the Zohar) that the reference here is not to our biological fathers but to earlier incarnations of our own soul. When we confess our sins we must ask for forgiveness for our soul in all its antecedent states.
Chassidic thought considers a father and mother as metaphors of our intellectual faculties. Accordingly, we may suggest another interpretation of our confession for our fathers’ sins. It’s not sufficient for us to recognize that our evil impulse and our weak emotional state got the best of us and brought us down. We must also extend responsibility to our minds. We must dig deep into our thought processes to discover the distorted way we have viewed the world and our role in it.
If we merely try to remove the emotional causes of our transgressions we still haven’t treated the sin at its source, which is our mind and mindset.
Hence, in the confessional prayer we start by addressing the immediate cause of our iniquity: “we sinned.” The “we” here refers to us, to our basic personalities which describe our emotional gestalt. If we think honestly about what drives us most of the time we see that it is our emotions. However, that is not a sufficient recognition of why we sinned. We must go deeper within our psyche to find the intellectual source of our deviations.
Upon further reflection we will see that our daily confession is significantly different from the confession mentioned in this week’s parsha. The parsha speaks of confessing our intentional sins (avonam), whereas our daily prayers refer to our unintentional sins (chatanu).
This probably explains why the confession mentioned in our parsha was not considered adequate. When we deal with confession it is not sufficient to recognize the intentional sins and their intellectual source. By omitting the unintentional sins the repentant sinner shows that he has not dug deeply enough into the root causes of his negligence and insensitivity.
A half-baked confession which does not confront the root of one’s transgression is a symptom of Galus. As explained in Chassidic thought, Galus is a force that primarily obstructs the mind and mindset of the Jew. As a result of this Galus condition, even when we confess our sins the confession is incomplete.
But we can remedy that shortfall. When we engage our minds with the Torah’s uninhibited and refreshing way of thinking it removes the obstructive force that distorts our intellectual vision. And while all teachings of Torah illuminate the mind, the teachings that relate to the period of Geula are particularly effective in reaching in to our minds, “our fathers”, and confessing or correcting their inadequacies.
It is interesting to note that the word for confession, “Vidui,” is cognate to the word “hodaa”-gratitude.
The lack of full awareness of who we are and what causes us to stray also prevents us from fully appreciating G-d’s gifts to us. When we reach every part of our psyche and thereby remove even the smallest traces of evil and insensitivity, we will be able to give full praise and gratitude to G-d. Thus, unadulterated gratitude characterizes the Messianic Era. In that time there will be no part of us that must be atoned for and straightened out. With all of our faculties functioning with full force, we will be able to join, unhindered, the symphony of thanksgiving!

Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (
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