They all agree that confession – viddui – is essential to the process (it has been pointed out that on Yom Kippur the confessions come ten times, since our transgressions have covered all the Ten Commandments).
We might have thought that repentance chiefly requires the remorse of one’s heart and soul, and of course this is true and the Torah says, “Purify yourselves before God” (Lev. 16:30) – but what goes on deep inside one’s personality is not enough on its own. It has to be articulated in words.
This is the message of the prophet Hosea in the haftarah that we read on Shabbat Shuvah: “Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled in your iniquity. Take with you words, and return to the Lord.”
The whole of our lives centres around words. We use them for good or ill every moment of our walking hours. Their importance in confession is, strangely, borne out by a memory from my student days.
Our College Administrator told me that some evenings when he got home he said to his wife, “Sit down, dear – I want to talk to you!” She sat down and he proceeded to sum up all that had happened during the day.
I asked him, “Does she solve your problems for you?”
“Not at all,” was the answer, “But putting the issues into words helps me to understand them!”
So it is with viddui. Putting our thoughts into words helps us to understand our situation.
It’s not so much God who needs to hear: we ourselves do.
Does God not already know all our actions? Of course He does. We are the ones who need to know what’s going on.
When we come through customs at an airport and they ask, “Have you anything to declare?” we need to ask ourselves that question first. That’s us on Yom Kippur too. We have to ask ourselves, “Do you have anything to declare?”