Why is Vidui Maaser a General Accounting of One’s Spiritual Life?

The mitzvah of Vidui Maaser has many surprising aspects to it.  I am still unsure about some issues and would appreciate some insight.  At the end of Pesach in the 4th and 7th year of the Maaser cycles, one does Biur Maaser and then says Vidui Maaser.  He declares that he has not violated any of God’s laws, presumably those related to terumot and maasrot, but we will return to this presently.

First, there is the basic question of why declaring to God that you have not violated any laws is called Vidui, confession, a word usually associated with confessing sin.  This is especially as the Mishna rules explicitly (Maaser Sheni 5) that one cannot say Vidui if he did do anything wrong.  The Minchat Chinuch (607) argues that in fact one must have done something wrong – namely that he delayed giving Terumot U’Maasrot such that he had to deal with it later on.  Even though this is no per se assur, it is problematic enough to warrant confession, and not too problematic to make it assur to say the Vidui. 

מנחת חינוך מצוה תרז

 ועלה בדעתי לומר דאפשר דמצות וידוי אינו אם נתן מתנותיו כראוי בכל שנה כיון דהכל עשה יפה בעתו למה יתודה והלא לא חטא כלל ולמה נקרא וידוי מעשר ע’ בתוי”ט שמביא בשם החכם ספורני הטעם דנקרא וידוי והוא דרך הפשט רק אם השהה המתנות ומבערן אז מתודה לאחר הביעור ושייך לשון וידוי שאומר אף שלא עשה כראוי מ”מ תיקן וביער הקודש וגם נתן כ”א לבעלים. ובזה ניחא לשון הר”מ מי שאין לו היינו בשעת הביעור דהכל תלוי בזמן הביעור אך לא משמע כן ובמצוה זו אני נבוך בכמה ענינים השי”ת יאיר עיני בתורתו ועוד חזון למועד

This perspective is very difficult to read into the Mishnayot, Yerushalmi, or RIshonim, but it does maintain the normal use of the word Vidui.

The Seforno also tries to maintain this definition of Vidui.  He argues that while the person could not have sinned, he is confessing a sin – the generic sin of the Jewish people that led to the avodah being taken away from the firstborns and given to Kohanim and Leviim.  When one is making sure that the Kohanim and Leviim are being paid their dues, a result of this original sin, he confesses to that national sin. This position is cited by several achronim, such as the Mishna Rishona and Tosafot Yom Tov.

ספורנו דברים פרק כו

(יג) בערתי הקדש מן הבית. בחטאינו ובעונות אבותינו הוסרה העבודה מהבכורות אשר להם היו ראויות תרומות ומעשרות כאמרו ואטמא אותם במתנותם בהעביר כל פטר רחם (יחזקאל כ, כו) וזהו וידוי מעשר שהזכירו רז”ל:

The third direction, and most likely is to note that Vidui does not mean confessing to sin – its means to acknowledge.  In this case, one is doing a personal accounting and acknowledging what he has done right.  This position is taken by the Malbim to the above possuk, as well as the Aruch HaShulchan HeAtid (136).

The Rav and Rav Kook also accepted this position.  The Rav (as I’ve heard it from several people) thought that understanding who you are and what you have done correctly is a necessary process in doing teshuva.  Vidui is really about understanding where you stand, and being able to admit to what you do right is as important and admitting to what you have done wrong.  R. Kook notes that Vidui has the same root as to thank (Modeh can mean either admit or thank – both are means of acknowledging a good or bad that has been done).  His piece and an analysis of it can be found: here.


Another fascinating discussion appears in the Yerushalmi.  As we noted, the Mishan rules that one cannot say Vidui if one has done something wrong.  However, the Yerushalmi cites two positions as to whether this means that the person has not done anything wrong concerning Terumot and Maasrot, or AT ALL.  When challenged that this is a reduction ad absurdum, the Amora confirms that in fact he means one cannot have done any sin – even putting on the tefillin shel rosh before the tefillin shel yad.

תלמוד ירושלמי (וילנא) מסכת מעשר שני פרק ה

 אית תניי תני כל המצות שבתורה מעכבות. ואית תניי תני כל המצות שבפרשה מעכבות. רבי אחא בר פפא בעי קומי רבי זעירא אפילו הקדים תפילה של ראש לתפילה של יד. אמר ליה אוף אנא סבר כן

However, we are left wondering 1) why would you need to be a tzadik gamur to say Vidui Maaser and 2) how is that even possible?

As for the second question, the Alei Tamar suggests that one would have to do at least hirhur teshuva before doing Vidui Maaser.  However, the question remains why this is necessary.

The Arugat HaBosem (here), seems to deny that this question exists, and claims that the Gemara is making a general claim, that whenever there are two mitzvoth, they must be done in order, even if they are not actually meakev each other (we would reject this position). He is not claiming that Vidui Maaser must include this sin. This understanding of the Arugat HaBosem is suggested by the Encyclopedia Talmudit, and in a sefer I found: here. In the footnote to the Encyclopedia Talmudit, it claims that this is also accepted by the Avudraham, but I am not convinced.  He seems to simply derive from here the Halacha that one must put his tefillin shel yad on first.

Mori VeRabi HaRav Aharon Lichtenstein hk”m (here), without solving the problem, notes that in fact the two opinions are actually similar in a surprising way.  The Mishna rules that one can only be chayav in Vidui Maaser if one has, at some point in the 3 years prior, brought Bikkurim or Maaser Sheni.  If one had only been chayav Terumah or Maaser Rishon, for example, one would not say vidui.  Yet, once one says Vidui, he does include all these mitzvoth.  That shows that Vidui Maaser, according to everyone, is more than just an accounting of the Biur Maaser, but a more general accounting of the person’s spiritual state.  While we rule that this is limited to his state in the general world of Terumot and Maasrot, conceptually this shares much in common with the other position. The Gra, even according to this more limited position, thinks that you also are saying Vidui on your general obligations of Tzedaka, maintaining some element of the other position.

דרך אמונה הלכות מעשר שני פרק יא

(קז) שנא’ ושמחת בכל הטוב. (קמט) האי קרא בביכורים כתיב ושמחת בכל הטוב אתה והלוי והגר וגו’ ובמע”ש כתיב נמי בפ’ ראה תאכלנו אתה ובנך ובתך ועבדך ואמתך והלוי אשר בשעריך ושמחת לפני ה’ והיינו שמצוה לשמוח ולשמח את העניים במע”ש שיתן להם (קנ) ודעת הגר”א דשמחתי ושימחתי בו קאי על מצות צדקה וג”ז בכלל הוידוי:

 RAL connected this to claim that the world of Maasrot, while many of the things one must give act to permit the produce, at their core, or obligations on the person who grew the produce.  I can’t get into the details here.


However, with all this, I still am not sure why Vidui Maaser would be the place where one makes a general accounting of his life.  If anyone has any ideas, please let me know.



3 thoughts on “Why is Vidui Maaser a General Accounting of One’s Spiritual Life?

  1. I once heard the קושיא asked slightly differently. The וידוי concludes with “עָשִׂ֕יתִי כְּכֹ֖ל אֲשֶׁ֥ר צִוִּיתָֽנִי”. Not only is this not an admission of guilt, but, אדרבה , it sounds like the person is even boasting about how observant he is (e.g. לֹֽא־אָכַ֨לְתִּי בְאֹנִ֜י מִמֶּ֗נּוּ etc.), So, how is that a form of וידוי (e.g. אָשַֽׁמְנוּ, בָּגַֽדְנוּ)?

    The תירוץ is that he says “I have done EXACTLY what I have been commanded” — implying that I did not do לפנים משורת הדין.

  2. If we view Terumot/Maaserot as ‘taxes’ levied on the land-owning population to pay the public servant workforce, then we can view Biur Maaserot as the “April 15th” of Halacha, that is, the time when we make a final financial *accounting* of the last fiscal cycle (they didn’t count stocks and bonds every night; just crops). What better time to have a spiritual Cheshbon haNefesh as well?

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