Say It to Own It – Parshat Naso
We know that words have power. They can hurt. They can calm. They can comfort and soothe. Words, through the help of certain techniques, can help us to overcome trauma. In recovering from my own heart attack, I shared my story of the events leading up to the hospitalization as they unfolded. I noticed afterwards that I had retold that story a number of times and in varying amounts of detail. Later I understood that 'debriefing' was cathartic and that talking was a healthy way of dealing with trauma. At times, just the very act of saying something makes it more real and easier to grasp.
It was quite a pleasant surprise, then, when I saw the commentary of the Malbim in Parshat Naso. In one of the situations where someone has stolen, they must right their wrong. In order to receive divine forgiveness, however, one must also confess.1 But the thief has already returned the item. Who cares if he confesses? He has already righted his wrong! So why confess? The Malbim offers an insight. Confessing, he writes, is the opposite of denying. If one continues to deny, then the path to absolution is closed to him. The victim's loss may be restored but we care for the thief as well. Only through admitting wrongdoing are you at all eligible for atonement. It is a necessary precondition. Owning up audibly and taking responsibility for your actions will lead to the clearing of your slate. Returning the item stolen just isn’t enough.
In a similar vein writes psychiatrist Dr. Viktor Frankl, that he visited San Quentin penitentiary and addressed the inmates with these words: "You were free to commit a crime, to become guilty. Now, however, you are responsible for overcoming guilt by rising above it."2 An inmate later wrote him that by holding him (the inmate) accountable for his actions, and in fact saying he was guilty, he felt strengthened and it gave him the ability to make a real change of attitude.3
By holding ourselves accountable we show our respect for who we are and what we believe we are capable of becoming. We say our confession out loud, we own it, and then we can decide on how to change.
Have A Great Shabbat!