Rabbi Dovid Saks
Yom Kippur 5772
A few days ago Amanda Knox stood before an Italian court and passionately claimed innocence of any involvement in the murder of her roommate. Although she was acquitted of the charges and she is now free, the ultimate truth of the matter is known only in her heart.
There are four basic elements for repentance. Being remorseful, confessing, distancing oneself from the sin, and accepting not to do it in the future.
The famous Halachic codifier, Rambam – Maimonides, states that the main feature of repentance is expressing our confession to the Almighty. Commentators wonder what compelled the Rambam to place confession as the central feature of repentance.
Rabbi Yechezkel Mi’Kuzamir o.b.m. explains as follows: The Torah states that regarding judicial matters, the majority rules – the verdict of the Jewish court is based on the opinion of the majority of judges sitting on the court.
There is a very interesting, and seemingly illogical law that states that if all the judges in a capital punishment case rule that the defendant is guilty without one judge siding in his defense, the defendant cannot be killed by the court! This law applies both to a court of 23 or a court of 71 judges.
Reb Yechezkel explains that the law is if someone is sentenced to death by a Jewish court and he then expresses his repentance, it does not alter his sentence. He says that the reason for this is because the court is not sure if he is sincere or not. Human nature is such that in the recesses of our hearts and minds we find excuses to justify our actions. A human court cannot be sure that the person is completely repentant, for he may be relying on an excuse, explanation or alibi.
As long as even one judge claims the defendant is innocent, we know that there is some mitigating factor why he sinned and therefore there is good reason to believe that the sinner did not repent with complete sincerity
However, when all the judges, who by the way, desperately try to find defense for the defendant, say that he is guilty, this means that the defendant has nothing to fall back on to vindicate himself, and when if he says that he repents, we know that he is 100 percent sincere and he is therefore not liable for the death sentence meted out through the courts.
When we stand on the holy day of Yom Kippur before the King of Kings, the Judge of Judges, the Almighty Himself, expressing repetitive confessions privately and intimately, between us and Him, with all barriers of social, peer, stigmas, personal inner struggles striped away - we can honestly feel 100 percent guilty on what we are confessing.
Upon hearing this, G-d in His infinite kindness and compassion recognizes our sincerity, and will accept our repentance, acquit us from our misdeeds, and dismiss our sentence, just as earthly courts throw out the sentence of a defendant whose repentance is sincere.
We can now understand why the Rambam states that confession is the crux of the repentant process.
With the spiritual cleansing that we achieve on Yom Kippur through our honesty and truthfulness, may the Almighty seal us all in the Book of Blessed Life!
Wishing you a most meaningful fast!
Rabbi Dovid Saks