There’s a very potent and important message that can be derived from this week’s parsha which should additionally serve as a proper introduction to Rosh Hashana and the Aseres Yemei Teshuva. The pasuk in this week’s parsha states, “Rather the matter is very near to you, in you mouth and in your heart to perform it.” Although Rashi explains this pasuk to be referring to Torah, the Ramban among other Rishonim disagree and explain that it’s referring to Teshuva. When the pasuk says “in your mouth” it refers to Viduy, and when the pasuk says “in your heart” its referring to the actually repentance and returning from sin.
However, the Mefroshim are bothered. Why does the Torah choose to say “in your mouth” first before “in your heart”? If anything it should be the other way around! Viduy is the end of the Teshuva process, only utilized after abandoning the sin and accepting an undying reluctance to return to it. Only after the avodah she’blev can we properly say Viduy and acquire repentance for our sins. In fact, the Gemara in Ta’anis notes that one who says Viduy without properly abandoning the sin is akin to one who attempts to purify himself in a mikveh while still clutching onto an impure object, the source of his impurity. Obviously, the Mikveh wouldn’t help at all! So too, the obvious inference from the Gemara is that merely saying Viduy without properly having done Teshuva can’t accomplish anything! Why then did the Torah express the notion of Viduy before Teshuva? In the overall process, Teshuva must come before Viduy, for without it the Viduy itself can’t yield the desired results.
Early in the Parsha, the Sforno comments on a different peculiarity in a Pasuk. Prior to the pasuk saying that we will return to HaShem (with Teshuva), the pasuk tells us “take it to your heart”, “v’hasheivosa el l’vavecha”. The Sforno explains that the Pesukim are in fact revealing a deep necessity and precursor to returning to HaShem and the Teshuva process.
Most people have a tendency to consistently self-justify. Whether it be in matters of business, inter-personal relationships, or in our Avodas HaShem, human beings have a unique quality of viewing the ourselves in a subjective, self-righteous light. If one where to ask each individual, “Do you consider yourself a good person or a bad person?”. the amount of people who would consider themselves “bad people” would be few and far between. I remember reading once reading about a young man in the 1930’s who’s name was Francis Crowley. After a series of events, he was chased by police into an apartment building. They proceeded to have a shootout, with Crowley being wounded four times. During the shootout, Crowley was able to pen a letter, in which he wrote, “To whom it may concern, under my coat is a weary heart, but a kind one. One that would do nobody harm.” Just to give a basic context of who he was as a person, prior to this shootout he had been casually approached by two officers who thought he looked like a wanted gangster (which he was). He proceeded to take out a gun and murder one of the officers before the other had time to react. To our view, this man was quite obviously a Rasha. But we see that according to him, he was just misunderstood, and in fact he was just the opposite, a righteous person with a good heart who found himself in the wrong situations.
This is the power and the danger of the human intellect. Sometimes its very painful to face reality. Its difficult to sincerely asses our lives and conclude that we could have been better, that we should have acted differently the past year. And even when we do admit our wrongdoings, we still tend to justify them, ignoring the gravity of our sins by explaining why we acted as we did. This is what the Pasuk is referring to. The Sforno explains that beforeone can really do Teshuva, he needs to be able to separate the Emes from the Sheker. He needs to become cognizant of his actions and their ramifications. Without being truly aware of what we’ve done, without a sincere assessment of our actions from the past year and what type of individual we’ve shaped ourselves into, its impossible to do true Teshuva. In order to ask forgiveness for something, we need to be aware of what we did. We need to realize how wrong we were.
This is the reason why the Pasuk puts Viduy before proper Teshuva. Even though Viduy without Teshuva doesn’t seem to work properly, this Viduy serves a different purpose. It serves to wake us up. To make us conscious of our actions. Even though the entire year we may choose to fool ourselves into believing in our own self-righteousness, the Viduy says differently. It’s supposed to enlighten us, when we say “Ashamnu, Bagadnu…” the realization hits home. Perhaps I wasn’t as good this year as I had thought? Perhaps all those times I believed I was correct, I was just gauging my actions on a subjective scale. Maybe I was wrong.
We need Viduy before Teshuva. We need realization and a consciousness before repentance. This idea is a crucial one before the Aseres Yemei Teshuva. The entire Elul we prepare for Yom HaDin. The entire Elul the excitement and anxiety of the upcoming days takes hold of us. The crucial introduction to these days is realizing that there’s something which needs fixing. Rav Chatzkel Levenstein writes in the very first Ma’amer of Ohr Yechezkel on Elul that a sickness of the souls is likened to a illness in the body. And just like the most dangerous illnesses are the ones which go undetected, so too the most destructive spiritual dangers are the ones we fool ourselves into thinking that they aren’t there. Our Viduy comes before Teshuva. Our selichos comes before the Aseres Yemei Teshuva. To awaken us, and enlighten us to our own realities.