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All For The Boss
‘Praiseworthy Is One Whose Transgression
Is Forgiven, Whose Sins Are Covered’
(Yoma 86b)

 

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A necessary component of teshuva – repentance is viduy – a verbal confession of one’s sins. The Gemara (86b) cites a dispute between R. Yehuda b. Bava and Rabbi Akiva as to whether one may make a general confession for all his sins (e.g., “I have sinned”], or whether one must specify his exact sins. The Mechaber (Orach Chayim 607:2) rules that it is preferable to specify one’s sins if he prays quietly, but the confession is valid even if one did not specify his sins.

The Mechaber adds, however, that one who prays aloud (i.e., the chazzan) should not specify his sins (so as not to reveal his sins to others). Rema (in his glosses) notes that the chazzan is permitted to recite the Al chet prayer aloud even though it specifies various sins, because it is a universal text and does not pertain specifically to his own sins.

 

Brazen Attitude

This latter ruling of the Mechaber is based on the statement of Rav (86b), who derives from the verse (Psalms 32:1), “Ashrei nesui pesha kesui chata’ah – praiseworthy is one who conceals his sin,” that it is improper to publicize one’s sins except under certain circumstances. Rashi explains that the greater the number of people present when one commits a sin (or who are made aware of his sin, the more damage is caused to Hashem’s honor. Rashi (Sotah 7b s.v. “man demafrit”) adds that by publicizing one’s sins it is a brazen demonstration that he is not embarrassed by them (and this may dampen the Torah commitment of others).

 

Of Public Record, the Innocent

There are several cases where divulging one’s sins is permitted and even necessary. In these cases we apply the verse, “One who conceals his sins will not succeed” (Proverbs 28:13).

Rav says that if one’s sins are already publicly known in any case, then he should confess in public, because a public confession increases his shame and remorse – thus facilitating his teshuva.

R. Zutra bar Tuvia says in the name of Rav Nachman that sins against a fellow man should be confessed in public (see Rashi).

The Gemara (Sotah 7b) states that if the public wrongly suspects an innocent person of having committed such an infraction, then the real sinner should make a public confession in order to vindicate the innocent party.

 

As a Source of Inspiration

The Nesivos (in the Palgei Mayim commentary on Eichah 1:18) and the Beis HaLevi (Al HaTorah, Parashas VaYera) assert that a sinner who is afflicted may publicize his sins and reveal the real reason for his suffering. Doing so increases Hashem’s honor, for by revealing the real reason for his punishment the sinner justifies Hashem’s actions.

The Shemuos Chayim (Yoma 86b) submits that a ba’al teshuva may (of his own volition) reveal his past misdeeds for the purpose of inspiring and influencing others to return to Hashem. By his example, he can explain how he personally succeeded in abandoning his corrupt past and was able to find the true path to Torah.

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Rabbi Yaakov Klass is Rav of K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush; Torah Editor of The Jewish Press; and Presidium Chairman, Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim.