In the Torah portion of Bechukosai we read: “They will [then] confess their sins and the sins of their fathers….”1 The Toras Kohanim2 comments that “This refers to repentance; as soon as they confess their sins, I will change [My conduct] and have mercy on them.”

What, exactly, is achieved by confessing one’s sins?

The Rambam rules3 that “When one repents and returns from his sin, he is obligated to confess.” In other words, confession follows on the heels of repentance. Thus the Rambam explains4 that confession involves speaking of “those things which he already decided [i.e., repented] in his heart.”

The Chinuch5 explains yet another aspect of confession: “As a result of specifically mentioning the sin, a person will regret having committed it, and be vigilant against committing it again.” Accordingly, there is merit in confession even before a sinner has fully repented in his heart, since the confession itself will lead to a deeper repentance.

There is yet another kind of confession that precedes repentance. This is as the Rambam states:6 “He who verbally confesses but has yet to decide in his heart to forsake [the sin]” resembles one who is “immersing himself [in a mikveh] while holding a [defiling] small creature in his hand” — thereby negating his immersion.

At first glance, such confession seems totally invalid; since confession entails “confessing verbally and saying those things that he decided in his heart,” then if he has yet to decide in his heart to forsake sin, the entire notion of confession does not yet apply.

However, if this were truly so, the Rambam’ s analogy to “immersing while holding…” is not understandable, for then it is not similar to an act of immersion that is negated by holding a defiling animal. Rather, it resembles no immersion at all.

Evidently, the very act of verbal confession, although the person has yet to decide to forsake the sin, contains an element of good — it is likened to the purifying act of immersion, albeit with a defiling animal in hand — something which must be cast aside by resolving not to sin.

How is verbal confession able to accomplish this?

Speech has many characteristics: It reveals matters that were previously concealed in a person’s mind and heart. Speech also evokes a greater emotional arousal regarding the subject spoken of. Thus we find written7 that when one is angry, one should refrain from speaking, for speech amplifies the anger.

Additionally, when one says something that one does not believe, it will engender a feeling of restlessness or shame. For although speech is but an external manifestation, nevertheless, since man is essentially a verbal being,8 whatever a person says has some effect on him. When his speech does not square with his true feelings, he will become uncomfortable.

These three aspects also apply to verbal confession: The main aspect of confession is, as stated earlier, “to verbally confess and say those things that he already decided in his heart” — one’s speech reveals the repentance found in one’s heart.

A second aspect of verbal confession is that the confession itself9 — even before one has fully resolved in his heart to forsake the sin — arouses a feeling of repentance, just as speech in general arouses the emotions.10

Then there is the third aspect, through which the confession itself is an “act” of repentance.11 For when a person says he has sinned and regrets it, etc., then, even if he has not yet resolved in his heart to forsake the sin, the words themselves make him feel ashamed of his past behavior. Thus, even this kind of confession is considered a form of ritual immersion — something that acts as a form of purification.

Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXVII, pp. 207-213.