Near the end of last week’s reading, in Parshat Tazria, the verses state the following:
The Midrash writes that the purpose of his calling out tamei, tamei, is to inspire others to have mercy and pray on his behalf.
This Midrash is somewhat counter intuitive. The Torah calls upon this person to air his dirty laundry. One would expect that this would further widen the rift between this person and society. After all, he has harmed society by sowing seeds of contention. He has rocked the boat of fraternity by infusing hostility and disgust between his fellows. Now he is reminding all who see him of what he has done.
Nevertheless, this has strong psychological basis. After giving it some thought one will likely agree that we have a greater tolerance for a repentant criminal than for one who shows no remorse. One who has done wrong and admits it does indeed inspire mercy from others. Criminals who are found guilty and who express remorse in court for their actions are typically given a lighter sentence than those who remain defiant and show no remorse. The judge normally is moved by such a display.
When it comes to teshuva we find the same mechanism. The Ramba”m writes, in his laws of penitence, the three stages of repentance. The first stage is confession, acknowledgment that one has done something wrong. You cannot fix something that is not broken. First we must acknowledge that there is something wrong with one’s behavior.
Indeed we find this already discussed by the wise Solomon in Proverbs: “He who covers his willful transgressions will not succeed, but one who admits and abandons them shall gain mercy.” (Mishle’ 28:14)
We invoke this verse from Proverbs in our High Holiday liturgy, confident that if we are indeed remorseful the Almighty will forgive us and we can move past our mistakes. It is entirely sensible that one who is afflicted by tzara’at will invoke more compassion from others when he is openly repentant, declaring “tamei, tamei.”
Certainly, a crime committed in arrogance will be rectified by an act of humility like this. As Einstein once said, “You can’t solve a problem using the same thinking that created the problem in the first place.”
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