When a man or woman who commits any of man’s sins, by committing treachery toward God, and that person shall become guilty—they shall confess the sin that they committed; he shall make restitution for his guilt in its principle amount and add unto it a fifth, and give it to the one to whom he is indebted.
The Jewish concept of confession and atonement for sins is based on this verse from the Bible, in which a person is dishonest regarding financial issues (theft, withholding salary, cheating a person on a loan, and so forth). Because these sins are considered not just an affront to the victim but also to God, God requires the sinner to repent, confess, and pay back the money he’s stolen with interest before he can be forgiven.
The main prayer service of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is called the Vidui, which means “confession,” not “atonement.” It may seem odd that the main service of the heart on this holiest day of the year is filled with confessions that the penitent is meant to say aloud, sometimes together with the rest of congregation. After all, isn’t repentance an inner process, a personal discussion one has with God? The answer is yes and no. Although we repent in our hearts, without confession— that is, the act of saying “I have sinned” and admitting our guilt—we’ll never truly repent, gain atonement, or be able to move on, repairing the damage we have done.
The letter Vav is most commonly known as the prefix used to denote the word “and,” and is seen hundreds of times thought the Bible as such, connecting words and concepts. Vidui serves a similar purpose: Because your past informs your present and future, being honest with yourself—that is, admitting your faults and expressing remorse for the things you’ve done wrong—will help to connect that past to the future in a more productive way. Expressing your guilt out loud and facing the consequences allows you to move on with your life and will help you truly reach a state of self-knowledge.
It’s especially interesting to note that in Judaism the Vidui is said not only on Yom Kippur, but on one’s wedding day and on one’s deathbed. At traditional Jewish weddings, the bride and groom immerse in the mikveh (ritual bath), fast for the day leading up to their wedding, and recite Yom Kippur prayers just before they go to their ceremony. The bride also traditionally wears a white dress and the groom a white robe, called a kittl, which will in the future be worn to synagogue on Yom Kippur every year and eventually serve as his clothing for burial. The wedding day is known as a personal Yom Kippur for the couple, a day to reflect on their lives up until this point, realize what was lacking in those lives, and purify themselves both physically and spiritually for the future.
The connections—the Vavs—between these three moments in life (the Day of Atonement, marriage, and death) are more than symbolic. The Vidui brings us to a place of purification and self-awareness that is crucial in every major life-changing event. Recognizing your shortcomings once a year, working toward a clean slate with which to start your married life, and making peace with God before you die are all essential elements of a truly fulfilled existence.
The Vav card comes to you in times when it’s important to make a confession of some kind. This need not be a “sin” and isn’t a sign of any shortcomings. It’s just that from time to time we all need to admit certain truths to ourselves, to face up to our actions out loud, and accept responsibility for what we’ve done.
The past will haunt you until it’s been properly dealt with, so don’t wait to take control of your life. Allow yourself to say what needs to be said. The rest will follow.