“Say to the Israelites: ‘Any man or woman who wrongs another in any way and so is unfaithful to the LORD is guilty and must confess the sin they have committed. They must make full restitution for the wrong they have done, add a fifth of the value to it and give it all to the person they have wronged.’” — Numbers 5:6–7
Jews around the world are entering the most holy time on the Jewish calendar, the High Holy Days. Beginning with Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and ending ten days later with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, this season is marked by intense reflection and repentance. This is one of 18 devotions focused on this holy season, exploring its meaning and the many lessons we can learn from this biblically mandated observance. To learn more, download our free study on Jonah, which is traditionally read during Yom Kippur.
Imagine that a businessman committed a serious financial crime. Years later, he regrets what he did, returns the stolen money and resolves never to steal again. Is he absolved of his sin?
In Judaism, there are three steps in repentance. The first is to regret the deed, the second is to orally confess the sin, and the third is to determine never to repeat the offense again. In addition, if there was any harm done through his sin, the person must do whatever it takes to repair the damage. But what happens if a person completes steps one and three, and even makes restitution, but skips the confession part? Is he or she still considered guilty?
The Jewish sages teach that a person who takes every measure to repent, but skips over the oral confession part, is considered righteous. However, he or she will still need to “pay” for his or her sin in this lifetime or afterward. Only oral confession can truly heal the soul.
I am reminded of King David’s words in Psalm 32: “Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven . . . When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long . . . Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD.’ And you forgave the guilt of my sin” (vv. 1–5).
As David so poignantly pointed out, confession is a doorway to freedom and forgiveness. Now, it should be noted that Judaism does not maintain that a confession must be done in public or even in private to any other individual. Rather, the confession of our sins is only in the presence of one being — the presence of God.
This being the case, one could wonder why verbal confession is required at all. Why can’t we just think our confession? After all, God knows our thoughts!
The answer is that we don’t confess our sins so that God can hear them. We confess them so that we can hear them. Speaking is more powerful than thinking. God didn’t think the world into existence; He spoke it into existence. So, too, our words have power. When we confess our sins, we break down barriers that block our soul. We let go of toxins that poison our spirit. Most importantly, we engage God in our cleansing process, and it is only He Who can truly purify our souls.
Next time you mess up, as we all do, resist the temptation to cover up and ignore it. As David attested, sweeping away our sins only makes matters worse. Instead, pour out your heart before God. As we confess our sins before God, He will heal our souls.
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