Admitting When You Do Wrong

While the focus of the presidential primary seems to be on
Donald Trump and the dysfunction he has brought to the Republican field, much more important developments are taking place on the other side of the aisle. The Clinton email scandal, which began with a New York Times report almost six months ago, continues to dog her campaign and has proven to have staying power.

When the story of her private server first broke on March 2, Hillary responded with a press conference at the United Nations eight days later which she thought (or, more accurately, hoped) would put the issue behind her. But her refusal to actually come clean about anything relating to her emails, and the fact that every time she tries to put this story to bed she only ends up broadening its scope, mean that the shelf life is longer than anyone ever expected.

Consider this: at the March 10 press conference Hillary insisted that “I fully complied with every rule I was governed by.” Well, last week, during a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) hearing, United States District Court Judge Emmet G. Sullivan said that “We wouldn’t be here today if the employee had followed government policy” — a statement that contradicts the claims coming out of Hillaryland.

Oh, and Hillary also repeatedly complains, not unlike her infamous “vast right-wing conspiracy” line in 1998, that those who say she did anything wrong are motivated by nothing but partisan politics to engage in a witch-hunt. Any objective observer can see that she did nothing wrong.

Are you ready for some delicious irony?

Judge Sullivan was appointed to the D.C. district court by a Democratic president: William Jefferson Clinton, to be exact.

The amazing thing here is that if Hillary had only decided to come clean about the server, most Americans would not care about this story anymore. But it’s her and her team’s continued efforts to cover up her email habits at the State Department and her utter incompetence in explaining anything about it that have led to reports that Joe Biden is now considering a run for the nomination.

But she still refuses to tell the truth. She won’t even concede that there may be anything sketchy about her decision to determine, on her own, which emails got turned over and made public, and which ones she considers “non-work-related.” Those emails are where the real story is, and are the probable reason she had for wiping her server before “voluntarily” turning it over to the FBI (after they asked for it). Of course, she doesn’t want to admit that she wiped it, awkwardly answering a question about it from Fox News White House correspondent Ed Henry with “What, you mean with a cloth?” although the FBI has said they found evidence that it had been wiped.

It is almost as though she is refusing to admit to anything out loud because that, in itself, will make it more real. As long as she doesn’t admit to anything, she can talk herself (and her supporters) into believing that she’s done nothing wrong.

There is an important contrast to be made here, especially as Elul gets further underway, and with the Days of Judgment rapidly approaching. When we look back at the last year and ponder all that we did and didn’t do, that we shouldn’t and should have done, we must make sure not to fall into a trap similar to the one in which Mrs. Clinton finds herself right now.

There are many different ways of counting the chelkei hateshuvah (necessary steps for teshuvah) in the Rishonim, with Rabbeinu Yonah including as many as 20 steps to complete repentance. There are, however, three things he writes (Shaar 1, Os 19) without which teshuvah cannot be done: charatah — regret; viduy — confession, and azivas hachet — forsaking the sin. Viduy, as the Rambam explains in Hilchos Teshuvah, must be done out loud; it isn’t enough to just think about it.

A person can daven the entire Yamim Nora’im while rationalizing everything he’s done over the last year. He can insist he followed the letter of the law, or even feel bad about a misdeed to the extent that he’d rather ignore it and move on, but if these three important steps aren’t a part of his repentance, he isn’t going to get very far. And it’s pretty simple. If you excuse, explain or ignore the wrong you have done, you can’t very well grow beyond it. If what you did was okay, or something you refuse to think about, how can you expect to resist the temptation the next time the aveirah comes your way?

Perhaps this is also why the Viduy must be said out loud. Not too long ago, experiments that seem to prove how saying things out loud gives people the ability to see things they couldn’t see before were conducted by researchers from Yale and the University of Madison-Wisconsin, and published in the official journal of the National Academy of Sciences in 2013. According to the researchers, “Language can provide a boost to perception,” and this makes things more “real” for the subject.

Ever try to get a child to speak the words of what they did wrong to you — even when they know you are fully aware of what they did? Any parent can attest to how difficult that is. For the child, “something I did” does not exist anymore, but once spoken, it’s something real that needs to be addressed.

To really do teshuvah and fix what we have done wrong, we need to acknowledge what it is we did. Only then can we actually fix it.