Paradigms of Confession
And you should say before Hashem your G-d, I have removed the
sacred from the house. And also I have given from it to the Leyve
and the convert, to the orphan and to the widow, as required by your commandments that You have commanded me. I have not violated
Your commandments and I have not forgotten. (Devarim 26:13)
- The tithes and their cycle
The Torah requires that we tithe our crops annually. Among the tithes that we are commanded to give are the first ma’aser, the second ma’aser, and the ma’aser for the poor. The first ma’aser is given to the Leveyim. The second ma’aser is taken to Yerushalayim and there the owner and his family consume the produce of the tithe. The ma’aser for the poor is distributed by the owner to those in need.
The first ma’aser is given to the Leveyim every year. The second ma’aser and the ma’aser for the poor are not given every year. Instead, they are given on the basis of a three year cycle. On the first, second, fourth, and fifth years following a sabbatical year the second ma’aser is given. On the third and sixth years following the sabbatical year the ma’aser for the poor is given.
|Sabbatical year||Year 1||Year 2||Year 3||Year 4||Year 5||Year 6||Sabbatical year
|No tithes||1st Ma’aser||1st Ma’aser||1st Ma’aser||1st Ma’aser||1st Ma’aser||1st Ma’aser||No tithes
|2nd Ma’aser||2nd Ma’aser||Ma’aser for poor||2nd Ma’aser||2nd Ma’aser||Ma’aser for poor|
- The “confession over the tithes”
At the end of each three-year cycle, a declaration is required regarding the giving of tithes. A portion of the declaration is quoted above. In this declaration, the person confirms that the annual tithes have been removed from his home and properly distributed. The tithe due to the Leyve has been given to him. The tithe required for the support of the poor has been distributed.
This declaration is referred to by our Sages as veydoi ma’asrot. The term veydoi is used elsewhere in the Torah. In those instances the term means to confess. If that translation of the term is applied to this context, then veydoi ma’asrot should be translated as “confession over the tithes.” Why is this declaration described as a confession? A confession, in halachah, is made in order to repent from a sin. This person is declaring that the laws have been properly performed!
There are a number of answers offered to this question. Many involve providing an alternative translation for veydoi ma’asrot that does not include the element of confession. Rabbaynu Ovadia Sforno, however, offers a very original explanation that preserves the straightforward translation.
- Transfer of the priesthood from the firstborn to the tribe of Leyve
Originally, the institution of the priesthood was awarded to the firstborn. Every tribe was to be represented in this honored group. At Sinai, the nation sinned through association with the Egel HaZahav – the Golden Calf. The only group that opposed the creation and worship of this idol was the tribe of Leyve. As a result, Hashem removed the priesthood from the nation’s firstborn and awarded it to Shevet Leyve – the tribe of Leyve. This meant that the other tribes would not be represented within the priesthood through their firstborn.
Sforno explains that we are required to acknowledge our involvement in the sin of the Egel. This is done through the tithes. Through these tithes we acknowledge and support the selection of Shevet Leyve for the priesthood. Through this acknowledgement, we demonstrate that we accept our responsibility for the sin of the Egel and its consequences. Veydoi ma’asrot is an affirmation of fulfilling our obligations of tithing. Therefore, it does have an element of confession. We are implicitly confessing the sin of the Egel.
This is an imaginative yet reasonable explanation of the term veydoi ma’asrot. However, is there a more straightforward explanation for the term? Let us begin by revisiting one of Sefer Devarim’s basic themes.
And you shall eat and be satisfied. And you will bless Hashem your L-rd upon the good land that He has
given to you. Take care, lest you forget Hashem your L-rd and, thereby, not observe His commandments,
His ordinances, and His statutes that I have commanded to you today. (Sefer Devarim 8:10-11)
- Remembering that our blessings come from Hashem
The above passages are representative of the theme that Moshe repeatedly revisits in his final address to the nation. He explains that in the wilderness, the nation’s awareness of the presence of Hashem was sustained by their complete, manifest dependence upon Him. They relied upon Hashem for their survival. He provided them with food, water, and responded to their other needs.
In the land that they will soon enter, conquer, and settle, His presence will not be as manifest. The nation will plant its annual crops. These will be watered by the rains falling from the heavens and harvested by the farmers. The people will consume the produce of their labors in safety and security. All of this will take place without the intervention of manifest miracles.
With the passage of time, the people will become accustomed to their comfort and wealth. They will come to regard the abundance that the land provides as a natural and normal outcome. They will take for granted their wellbeing. They will become complacent in their observance of the Torah. Complacency will develop into neglect. Neglect of the Torah will lead to abandonment of Hashem.
The people will no longer recognize that the blessings they enjoy are an expression of Hashem’s benevolence. He provides for them in the land just as He provided in the wilderness. The falling rain, the healthy crops, the safety and security of the people are just a few of the many kindnesses that He bestows upon them. Every success and achievement that they attribute to their own efforts and initiative is realized only through Hashem’s constant support and providence. He makes the rain fall. He protects the crops from disease and pestilence. He secures the borders of the land and dissuades other nations from contesting Bnai Yisrael’s presence.
Finally, Moshe repeatedly warns the nation that if they abandon Hashem, then He will provide them will compelling evidence of His immense role in the wellbeing that they have enjoyed. He will not bring the rain down upon their crops. They will experience drought, disease, and pestilence. Their enemies will find the courage and the means to challenge Bnai Yisrael. The people will learn that Hashem’s providence and benevolence are present even when not manifest. They will rediscover their helplessness. Let us now reconsider veydoi ma’asrot.
I did not eat any of it [second tithe] while in my mourning, nor did I consume any of it while unclean; neither
did I use any of it for the dead. I obeyed the Lord, my God; I did according to all that You commanded me.
Look down from Your holy dwelling, from the heavens, and bless Your people Israel, and the ground which
You have given to us, as You swore to our forefathers – a land flowing with milk and honey.
(Sefer Devarim 26:14-15)
- Demanding from Hashem
The passages above complete the text of the veydoi ma’asrot. These passages contain two elements. The first element is a declaration that the ma’asrot have been treated properly and used for their appropriate purposes. The second element is a prayer. The person asks Hashem to bless Bnai Yisrael and the Land of Israel. How are these two elements related?
Rabbaynu Avraham ibn Ezra, explains that when one recites these passages, one is saying to Hashem, “I have observed the commandments with which You charged me. You have declared that You will respond to my observance by bestowing Your blessings upon me. I now ask that you respond to my perfect observance of these commandments. Bestow Your blessings upon me.”
This interpretation of the veydoi transforms it. It is not a typical petition in which the petitioner pleads with his benefactor for his kindness. It seems that the person reciting the veydoi is demanding that Hashem respond to his observance of the mitzvot with His blessings. Is this truly the intent of the veydoi?
The L-rd then spoke to Moshe saying: Tell the children of Israel, “When a man or woman commits any of the sins against man to act treacherously against Hashem, and that person is [found] guilty, they shall confess the sin
they committed, and make restitution for the principal amount of his guilt, add its fifth to it, and give it to the
one against whom he was guilty.” (Sefer BeMidbar 5:5-7)
- The confession experience
These passages are one of the instances in the Torah in which the term veydoi is employed in its usual context. Here, it means to confess one’s sin. What is the process that takes place in confession of sin? What is the experience? Confession is an acknowledgment. The person acknowledges that he has engaged in an activity that is wrong. However, acknowledgment is not synonymous with confession. Confession is a particular type of acknowledgement. It is an acknowledgement that emerges from a inner-struggle. The one who confesses must triumph in an internal battle in order to pronounce his acknowledgment. He must overcome rationalization, and his self-serving perspective to acknowledge that his actions have – in fact – been wrong. In other words, confession requires acknowledging and embracing an unwelcome and uncomfortable truth.
Now, let us return to Ibn Ezra’s comments. According to his view, when a person recites the veydoi, he describes his obedience to the commandments and he asks that Hashem respond to this obedience by bestowing His blessings upon him. In stating this request, there is an acknowledgement. The person reciting the veydoi acknowledges that he needs Hashem’s blessings. His crops, his wealth, and his security are the product of these blessings. Without those blessings, his own efforts would not have been successful. He is also acknowledging that he cannot take for granted Hashem’s blessings. Those blessings are a response to his observance of the commandments. He can only expect Hashem to bestow His blessings if he continues to be faithful to the Torah.
This acknowledgment has the characteristic essential to a confession – a veydoi. It is an acknowledgment that comes from overcoming the natural tendency that Moshe repeatedly identifies in Sefer Devraim – the tendency to take the credit for our accomplishments and to overlook or deny the role of Hashem in our lives and successes. The person who sincerely recites the veydoi overcomes this tendency and declares that his wellbeing is provided by Hashem and that his observance of the Torah’s mitzvot is as fundamental to his success as his efforts as a farmer.
 See for example, Sefer BeMidbar 5:7.
 Rabbaynu Ovadia Sforno, Commentary on Sefer Devarim 26:13.
 Rabbaynu Avraham ibn Ezra, Commentary on Sefer Devarim, 26:15.