Are we Innately Good? 

Rabbi Reuven Mann

This week's parsha Ki Tavo contains a most fascinating mitzvah, that of Vidduy Maaser.  The term vidduy means confession, which is generally associated with admission of sin.  Thus, when a person "does Teshuva" and repents of his sins he is obligatged to verbally declare his transgressions.  Vidduy Maaser is the exact opposite of Vidduy Teshuva.  It takes place in the third year of the Shmitta cycle.  After he has fulfilled all of tithing obligations he makes a short declaration affirming that he has meticulously observed all the rules pertaining to the fulfillment of his responsibilities.  His statement concludes with a prayer that Hashem will "look down" from His Heavenly abode and bless His Nation Israel and the land that He gave them, just as He promised, a land which flows "milk and honey."  The question arises: what is the purpose of this declaration and why is it referred to as confession, when he has committed no crime and in fact has favorably discharged all of his responsibilities?

In my opinion we must expand the Torah's concept of vidduy.  It is not limited to recognition of guilt but refers to a more general kind of introspection.  We should have an accurate and insightful awareness of our inner nature.  We should not be content with a superficial understanding of our psychological makeup.  We should examine and evaluate our behavior not only when we transgress but when we do mitzvah as well.  There is a tendency to pat oneself on the back and feel very good when we have displayed generosity and tithed our crops.  This can lead to a false sense of pride and an overestimation of one's innate "goodness".  It is important for a person to review what he did and to specify that he did not act out of any innate benevolence but only because he adhered to the halachic system which was given to us by Hashem.  In recounting his actions he will become aware of all of his resistances, which had to be overcome in order to comply with the requirements of the mitzvah.  He will not fall prey to the illusion that he is a naturally generous person who just wants to help people.  Rather, he will realize that man is essentially selfish but can transform himself only through observance of the Torah, which provides the knowledge and deeds man must perform to reach a higher level.  Vidduy Maaser is a declaration of the manner in which a person has changed as a result of his adherence to Torah and mitzvot.  When a person achieves the awareness that all the good that he does stems from his adherence to Torah he has a right to request that Hashem continue to provide him with all the blessings that enable him to perform acts of righteousness and generosity.