In the prayer of, “Zechor lanu b’rit avot — “Remember in our behalf the covenant with the patriarchs” — which is recited four times during Yom Kippur, we pray that Hashem forgive our sins, and we say, “Make our sins white as snow and wool, as it is written, ‘Come now let us reason together, says Hashem; even if your sins will be like scarlet, they will become white as snow; even if they will be red as crimson, they will become white as wool’” (Isaiah 1:18).

Why the color scheme red and white? The opposite of white is black and not red. The Prophet should have said in the name of Hashem, “If your sins will be black as coal, they will become white as snow.”

To explain this, I will share with you, dear friends, a story that took place some time ago in the Jewish community of Johannesburg, South Africa.

A public debate was once held between a Reform Rabbi and Orthodox Rabbi regarding the authentic Torah way of life and the Reform approach to Judaism. The astute Reform Rabbi decided that the best defense was an offense. When he was called upon to make the first presentation, he avoided all discussion of theology, Jewish law, etc., but instead, to everyone’s surprise, he commenced by asking the president of the Orthodox synagogue, who was in the audience, to rise, and then asked him the following question: “Are you truly a Torah observer?” The president of the Orthodox synagogue became red-faced, hemmed and hawed, and with a deep sigh of embarrassment admitted that he was not.

The strategy of the Reform Rabbi became clear when he said, “Ladies and gentleman, you see, there is no difference between my officers and their officers: neither of them are real Torah observers, so why debate? We are both equally non-observant.”

During all this time the late, venerable Ponavezer Rav, Rabbi Yosef Kahanaman o.b.m. — sat in the audience as a curious onlooker. He asked for permission to ask a question. He mounted the platform and asked the president of the Reform Temple to rise and he asked him, “Are you a Torah observer?” The president of the Temple burst into laughter, saying, “Why, of course not!”

“This,” said the Rav with quiet triumph, “is the difference between the two presidents, namely, the sense of shame that was so evident in the Orthodox President’s words and that was so utterly lacking in the reply of the Reform President.” A person who turns red-faced with shame when confronted with his wrong-doing, exhibits remorse.

One of the great problems of our contemporary times is that we no longer blush; our faces do not become red. The rebellion against morality is publicly flaunted. In other words, our problem is not the “cheit” — “sin.” There were always sins and sinners, but we did not make a virtue out of them, nor did we look at sin lightheartedly. In earlier years there was a sense of shame, and this was already half of repentance. Today, we are no longer red in the face because of crime, immorality and unethical business dealings — we have become a corrupt society.

The Prophet’s words are teaching us that when shame is gone, there is less hope for moral regeneration. However, if a person’s sins cause reddening with shame, there is hope that he will do teshuvah and Hashem will forgive him and turn everything to “white.”

In one of our prayers we express the words found in the Book of Daniel (9:7) “Lecha Hashem hatzedakah velanu boshet hapanim” — “To You O G‑d, is the righteousness, and to us is the shamefacedness.” It may however also mean that what Hashem does for His people is in reality an act of tzedakah. He owes us nothing and we are really not deserving of His benevolence. But when “velanu boshet hapanim” — we will have a face that will portray our shame and we will blush from embarrassment — then we will merit that He extend His righteousness to us. He will pardon our sins and bless us with the best of everything materially and spiritually.

(הרב דוד ע"ה הולונדער)