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It says in the portion Shoftim, “A person needs to appoint for himself somebody to whom he is accountable in spiritual terms.” To explain this, we have to understand something it says in Ezekiel, in prophecy: every negative action an individual does is inscribed upon his bones. Why? Because every negative action has a letter combination. Just like there are combinations of letters that are channels of Light, so too are there combinations of letters that are channels of darkness.
"Every negative action has a letter combination."
So, when a person acts out of negativity - such as anger, jealousy, or a desire to receive for the self alone - he awakens the letter combination specific to that negative action and it becomes imprinted on his or her bones. As the individual continues to do that same action, that same Name becomes imprinted more deeply. And it is that inscription, that writing of those negative Names on the person’s bones, that causes negativity to manifest in his life; it actually tells us in Jeremiah that the negativity an individual has awakened which becomes imprinted on his bones is what then manifests negativity for him in his life.
This is why throughout the process of slichot and of Yom Kippur that it’s important an individual speaks certain words. There is a group of what’s called the vidui, which translates as “confessions,” that the individual does. Additionally, before a person is about to leave this world, it’s important that he or she does the vidui; it’s sort of the last opportunity to remove any of those remaining imprints of negative Names from his or her bones.
When the individual either says the vidui, or tells another person the specific negative things that he has done, the energy of those words that come from his mouth is able to take off the layer of negativity that he has imprinted on his bones. For example, let’s say that yesterday we became angry, and today we go to our teacher or friend and say, “I want to confess to you that yesterday someone did something to me and I became angry and yelled at them.” Then, through those words, we are able to remove the layer of negativity that was imprinted on our bones from that negative action.
So, knowing this, now we can come to understand why it says in the portion Shoftim that “a person needs to appoint for himself somebody to whom he is accountable in spiritual terms;” it is the person to whom he repeats all the negative things he can remember that he has done. And we now know how tremendously important it is to do that.
"We are able to remove the layer of negativity that was imprinted on our bones."
In the Talmud, in Sotah, it says that the Israelites took the coffins of Joseph, Yehuda, and some others out with them. And it tells us that the bones of Yehuda were uneasy in the coffin and were making noise. Why? Because of the 12 Tribes, Yehuda was the leader during the time Joseph was sold down into slavery, and that negative action, therefore, became imprinted on his bones. The negative Name that was awakened through that action of selling Joseph became imprinted on the bones of Yehuda, and he had not, for whatever reason, completely removed it during his lifetime. Therefore, as his coffin was being carried in the desert, it was making noise because the bones were still in pain.
Moses, speaking to the Creator, says, “Hear the voice of Yehuda.” Yehuda knew that he had fallen with the selling of Joseph, but saying it once wasn’t enough. However many times throughout his life he was aware of this negative action, and even though he did do the vidui and mention this to his teacher and friends, it was not enough. We learn from this, therefore, that it’s not necessarily enough to mention it once or twice, and as we lead up to Rosh Hashanah and go through the process of vidui, we need to remind ourselves of it.
In fact, the kabbalists teach that when a person is truly in tune with the process of teshuvah, it’s important to keep reminding him or her self of the negative action until it becomes removed. It’s not that we say it once and then it’s over; if we still have the sense of negative energy around the action that we have done, it’s because it still exists, so we mention it however many times we need to. Although Yehuda was aware of the fact that this negative action and the Name that it awakened had become imprinted on his bones, and he did the process of teshuvah, it still wasn’t enough. Therefore, in the desert when Moses saw that the bones of Yehuda were still not calm and in pain, he awakened the force of the vidui again that Yehuda did when he was alive; Moses had the power to be able to do it for Yehuda again, and, as such, the bones of Yehuda settled. By both reawakening the vidui, and Yehuda’s mentioning of the negative action that he had done, Moses was able to finally, and forever, remove that negative imprint from the bones of Yehuda.
From this teaching, we want to awaken true appreciation for the nature of what we have done, and to remind ourselves that absolutely every negative action we have done over this past year and throughout our lifetime has become imprinted on our bones, and that is the energy by which the negativity comes into our life. We have the gift to be able to remove it through the process of vidui, through the process of telling it over until we begin to feel that negativity lifting from us. And, as we learn from Yehuda, it was not enough that he did it once, twice, or maybe twenty times in his life. We have to keep on repeating it until it loses its energy, until we have removed the imprint of that negative action from our bones. This is true for every negative action, and certainly every group of negative actions, that we have ever done.