“They shall confess their sin that they have committed…” (Numbers 5:7)
Confession is a basic requirement in the atonement process for all wrongful behavior. Why is it that that the commandment for confession is stated here in the context of the sin of stealing and not elsewhere?
In truth, every sin is a form of stealing. The Gerrer Rebbe explained that any time we use the life force God gave us and the potential we have to act contrary to His will – we are guilty of misappropriation. It is therefore quite appropriate that the obligation to confess our sins is located in the context of the prohibition of stealing.
Not only are we stealing from God whenever we sin – we are also stealing from ourselves. We are shortchanging our own lives by failing to live up to the true goals for our existence. This is what the Kotzker Rebbe meant when he said that he doesn’t avoid sin because it’s wrong as much as he avoids sin because he doesn’t have the time. Each moment spent doing the wrong things takes away from what we can be accomplishing with those minutes. We were created in order to actualize our spiritual potential – and life is too short to waste any of it on distractions.
Along these lines, Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis tells the following wonderful story in her book The Committed Marriage:
Once there was a poor man with a large family who just couldn’t make a living. One day his wife told him that she’d heard of a far off island where diamonds were lying on the streets, available for all the picking. Desperate, the man set out and, after an arduous journey, arrived at his destination. Sure enough, everything that he heard was true. He couldn’t believe his eyes. The streets were strewn with diamonds! He couldn’t gather them fast enough.
When night fell, he sought lodging in an inn, prepared to pay for his room and board and his newly acquired gems. The proprietor laughed in his face. “Diamonds have no value on this island. “Here you pay with chicken fat.”
“Chicken fat!” The man exclaimed incredulously.
“Yes, chicken fat,” was the reply.
“But where do I buy chicken fat?” The man asked, not quite comprehending what he’d been told.
“Sir I told you-it’s the currency. You can’t buy it, you have to earn it.”
Having no choice, the man slaved to gather chicken fat, and as time passed, he forgot the reason he came to the island in the first place. After many years of toil, he became wealthy, and prepared to set sail for home, taking huge vats of his new found fortune with him. After a long journey, the boat reached the port. His wife and children were waiting at the dock.
“I’m sorry I was away so long, but it has all been worthwhile. Wait until you see the treasures I’ve accumulated. We will never have to worry again.”
As the porters unloaded the heavy vats, a terrible stench filled the air. The chicken fat had rotted in the heat. His wife and children looked at him in disbelief. “Is this what you sacrificed for all these years?” she cried. “Was it for this that you slaved and labored? Was it for this that you stayed away from home?”
The man, realizing the stupidity and futility of his life, broke down and wept. How could he have forgotten the true purpose of his mission?
Exchange the word money for chicken fat and the word diamonds for children, mitzvahs, and good deeds, and you will get he picture….G-d propels us in the world to gather diamonds but too often, like this man, we forget our mission and end up with foul-smelling chicken fat.