I CONFESS, I DID IT!!
Rabbi David Walk
For those of us of a certain age, that title describes how many of the old Perry Mason (1957-1966) crime shows ended. The real perpetrator would break down under the withering examination by the foxy defense attorney, who figured out the real criminal way before the rest of us did, and dumfounded the not as bright district attorney, Hamilton Burger (played by Willian Tallman, who famously recorded an anti-smoking ad, which was not aired until after his death from lung cancer). Oh, if only crime fighting were that easy. Those were confessions that we could understand, and even admire. Confronted with undeniable evidence, the offender would concede guilt. Do we feel the same way about the long lists of admission of guilt that we endure on Yom Kippur? I don't think so. We look at this inventory of dastardly deeds, and tend to deny any culpability on our part. So, the annual question returns: Why must I recite this litany of crimes year in and year out?
First of all, I must confess that I have trouble with this confession stuff each year. When I was younger, and even more immature than I am now (if you can believe that), I used to read the list of sins and try to decide which people in the congregation committed which of these crimes. So, there I was sinning simultaneously to confessing. That seems oddly efficient. However, as time went on, I starting thinking that the Sages produced this list to help us remember which terrible things we really did last year. I think they believed that this list was helpful, because it contained the most often transgressed mitzvoth. I think that it would be instructive to sit down before Yom Kippur and write our own list of more modern sins. I face-booked embarrassing things on purpose. I knowingly left my phone on ring during that speech. I knew that it was a handicap space. I gave out people's passwords. You get the idea.
Maimonides actually lists confessing as the essential mitzvah of teshuva (repentance). This is how he expressed this idea in Sefer HaMitzvot: The 73rd mitzvah is that we are commanded to verbally acknowledge the sins we have committed before God, when we come to do teshuvah