Dvar Torah: Why is Vidui Ma’aser called a Vidui

Written by Rabbi Josh Levy — 23 September 2016

In tomorrow morning’s Torah portion, which Lily Bea will chant for us, we read the ritual of the first fruits, including the things that an Israelite would say on giving their produce to the priest.

This includes a declaration which goes something like (and I paraphrase – a lot):
“I have done the right thing, I have tithed and made sure it goes to the vulnerable. I’ve not transgressed any of the relevant commandments but have done it entirely by the book.  Well done me”.

What is odd about this statement is what the rabbis call it.  They refer to this as Vidui Ma’aser – the confession of tithing.
But why is a declaration that you have done everything right referred to as a confession?  Isn’t confession about saying what you’ve done wrong?  Certainly that is what we associate with the vidui – the confessions – of Yom Kippur.

There are some authorities who try to make this about a sin – often they link it to the Golden Calf, the formative sin of the Jewish people.

But actually this name contains a wonderful insight.  Vidui, confession, is about honest reflection and acknowledgement. It is about self-appraisal, not self-flagellation.
At this time of year, as we prepare for vidui, as well as recognizing our failings, we can also acknowledge our successes.  To really evaluate who we are, where we are, means knowing what we do well, and what we do less well.

This reflects something rather good about Judaism.  Ours is not a religion that wants us to overplay our vices because it is not one which glorifies guilt.  That is not the idea of this period of the year at all.  What it asks of us is honesty.

So, in this time of cheshbon hanefesh, of self evaluation, we can learn from vidui maaser.  We need to confess: to acknowledge, to recognise what we do badly, but also to see the good we do and what we do well.
As institutions and as individuals we need this.  We need to say, not smugly, and with honesty: “We have done the right thing, We’ve not transgressed but have done OK.”

We might even allow ourselves a little: “Well done us”.