Facing Ourselves on Yom Kippur

Question

One of the main parts of what we do on Yom Kippur is viduy (confession). Why is it necessary for us to verbally announce the sins that we committed? Doesn’t God know what we did?

4 weeks

Answers

  1. Great question! Obviously this confession is not to inform God of anything new. As we say in the text of the viduy itself: “What can we say before You? You know the secrets of the world…nothing is hidden from You, and nothing is hidden from Your eyes.” As for us, we know everything that we have done already. What then is the purpose behind confession?

    Throughout the year we often rationalize bad behavior through all kinds of farfetched excuses and reasons. Subconsciously we do this to ease our conscience from bearing the guilt of having done something wrong and to justify not changing anything in the comfortable lifestyle we have chosen for ourselves. After doing this long enough we begin to think that there is absolutely nothing wrong with the action, behavior or lifestyle we have chosen. As our Rabbis teach, “One who sins and repeats it, it (the sin) becomes permitted to him (in his own eyes). (Kiddushin 20a)

    Based on the above we can understand that one purpose of the confession is to force us to stop making justifications for our misdeeds. Through verbally admitting the sins that we have committed we are forced to face our wrong decisions. This will hopefully lead us to regret the past and finally to make a commitment not to sin again in the future. Based on this it is no wonder why viduy is such a central theme of Yom Kippur, as it literally leads to the three parts of teshuva (repentance) that is required of us: verbal admission of guilt, verbal expression of regret for the past and verbal expression of the commitment not to repeat the sin in the future.

    And please keep in mind two points: Yom Kippur is not a sad day but rather a very happy day of forgiveness and atonement; and that when we verbalize our confession, we do it softly, so that only God and we can hear what we say, but not other people nearby.

    Best wishes from the AskTheRabbi.org Team