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Did it? Admit it!

Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8 )

by Rabbi Shraga Simmons

Why do we have such a hard time admitting we’re wrong?

Everyone knows that Adam and Eve made a bad mistake in the Garden of Eden. But was their primary mistake eating from the fruit? No. A look at the verses (Genesis 3:8-13) reveals something much deeper:

"[After eating, Adam and Eve] hid themselves from God among the trees of the Garden. God called to Adam and said: "Where are you?"

"I heard Your voice in the Garden, and I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid."

God asked: "Who told you that you are naked? Did you eat from the tree which I commanded you not to eat?"

Adam replied: "The woman that you gave to be with me ― she gave me to eat from the tree."

So God said to the woman, "What is this that you have done?"

The woman said, "The serpent deceived me, and I ate."

Rashi explains the sequence: God obviously knows what Adam has done, yet He does not attack with an accusation. Rather, God strikes up a conversation, asking in a gentle, non-threatening way: "Where are you?" He gives Adam a chance to admit his mistake, and express regret.

Instead Adam hides and blames it all on Eve. Eve passes responsibility off to the snake. Everyone claims they did nothing wrong!

That was their worst mistake.

God knows we're not perfect ― He's the one who created us this way! But He does expect us to take responsibility for our actions and admit when we've done wrong. Because without doing so, there is no hope to correct it in the future.

This lesson can be applied to raising children. Imagine walking into the kitchen to find your child up on the counter and reaching his hand into the cookie jar. Don't accuse, don't attack, and don't back him into a corner. The deed of snatching cookies is already done; the only question that remains is how he will deal with the mistake. Try a casual, "Hey, what's goin' on with the cookies?" This gives him a chance to state the truth without feeling threatened.


Why is it that so many people have trouble admitting when they're wrong?

One possible reason is that without an absolute standard of right and wrong, there may be no compelling reason to admit wrongdoing. Newsweek magazine reports:

"You got to court and the guy is looking at you, like, 'What's your problem? So what if I killed your son?'" says Virginia Irick, whose teenage son was murdered several years ago in Philadelphia. Of the 1,200 families serviced by a grief-assistance program, only 10 have seen some kind of remorse from the person who killed their loved one. That's less than 1 percent.

In Western society, aversion to apology is a widespread malady. Whether somebody cuts another off in traffic, or destroys a marriage, admitting guilt is out of vogue. In fact, pop psychology has done all it can to remove whole concept of "guilt" from our lexicon. It's much easier to rationalize our mistakes away. And it's unhealthy to feel guilt, they say. "Suppress it!"

On one level, this suppression is unhealthy. When we refuse to admit, it is depressing and paralyzing. The regret stays inside and festers.

On another level, this suppression is downright dangerous. When one repeats an inappropriate act, he will eventually come to rationalize it as proper. The Nazi Himmler wrote that in his own personal experience with killing Jews, the turning point came when he was able to fall asleep at night without any guilt. He knew then that he'd crossed the point of no return.

Say It Out Loud

This week's Parsha provides an important tool for admitting our mistakes:

"When you have finished taking all the tithes of your grain ... make the following declaration before God: "I have removed all the sacred portions ... I have given the appropriate portions to the Levite, the orphan and the widow..." (Deut. 26:12-13)

The Torah is telling us that to evaluate our spiritual status properly, the key ingredient is to speak it out loud. "Make the following declaration before God" ― i.e. articulate verbally where we have succeeded and where we have failed.

The ArtScroll Machzor explains:

"As an intelligent, thinking, imaginative being, man has all sorts of thoughts flashing constantly through his mind. Even sublime thoughts of remorse and self-improvement are not strange to him, but they do not last. For his thoughts to have lasting meaning, he must distill them into words, because the process of thought culminates when ideas are expressed and clarified.

"That is not as easy as it sounds. It is usually excruciatingly difficult for people to admit explicitly that they have done wrong. We excuse ourselves. We refuse to admit the truth. We shift blame. We deny the obvious. We excel at rationalizing. But the person who wrenches from himself the unpleasant truth, "I have sinned," has performed a great and meaningful act."

Talking To Yourself

This lesson is crucial as we approach the High Holidays, the time when we stand in front of the mirror and see the stark reality of who we are. Maimonides explains:

"For every Mitzvah in the Torah that a person transgresses, he needs to confess before God ... What does this consist of? The person says: 'God, I have sinned before you; I have done this specific act; I am ashamed of my actions; and I will never do it again." (Laws of Teshuva 1:1)

In Judaism, confession is a totally private matter, between you and God. In fact, the Hebrew word for confession ― li-heet-vadot ― is the "reflexive" form which connotes acting upon oneself. Though we speak to God, He knows the truth already.

The problem is when we're not willing to admit the truth to ourselves. As the prophet Jeremiah says, "God will judge us when we say 'I didn't sin.'"

Incredibly, the incident of Adam and Eve occurred on the very first Rosh Hashanah, the day that humanity was born. Rosh Hashanah is thus the most opportune day to repair that mistake.

May these holidays be a time of spiritual growth for us all.


Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Shraga Simmons


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