“And for sin that we committed in a state of a confusion.” The last “al cheit” in the series of sins we acknowledge during the Yom Kippur davening refers to sins we committed because we were “dazed” (see Targum HaLa’az, entry #2001), and therefore unable to think clearly enough to be better equipped to avoid sinning. This same expression (“simhon leivav”) is used to describe part of our punishment we are warned will happen to us if we abandon G-d and His Torah (D’varim 28:28). In Iyun HaParasha (#115, pg. 26), a two-part question is asked. First, they ask how “simhon leivav” is considered a sin that needs to be confessed if it is clearly a punishment and a curse. Before discussing why I don’t think this is really a question, allow me to explain why I don’t understand the second part of their question either.
In the second part, a straw man is set up, claiming that the only purpose of being punished by G-d is to wake the person up so that he no longer sins, after which the question is raised how being put into a state of confusion can be used as a punishment if it prevents the sinner from being able to think clearly enough to change his ways. (Rambam’s Hilchos T’shuvah 9:1 is referenced.) Even according to this line of thinking, though, being put into a state of confusion could also prevent the sinner from using (what had been) his full brain power to sin further, and would therefore be consistent with the assumption made (that punishments are only given to bring about positive results). However, it is clear from the verses, as well as from the Rambam’s explicit words, that a sinner can be punished without the goal being to bring about a positive change in the sinner. [This includes preventing the sinner from fulfilling mitzvos so that he cannot deserve any reward.] Confusing a sinner in order to prevent him from doing something positive is therefore consistent with Rambam’s approach to the punishments described in the Torah.
Getting back to the seeming contradiction between a “state of confusion” being a punishment and being a sin we must atone for, I wonder if the question is based on the assumption that we are asking G-d to forgive us for being in a state of confusion rather than for those sins committed while being in such a state. However, even if it’s the former, we could simply be asking G-d to forgive us for deserving such a punishment.
Looking at the various sins in the “al cheit” sequence that we are asking G-d to forgive us for, some refer to specific sins (such as profaning G-d’s name and Loshon HaRa), some refer to categories of sin (such as those committed through speech, those done purposely or accidentally, and those done in a business setting) and some that refer to a state of being (such as through a lack of knowledge, through being haughty, being brazen, or being stiff-necked). This one (being dazed and confused) would seem to fall under the latter classification. Although it is true that we are held responsible for allowing ourselves to become confused, this does not seem to be the intent here. Rather, we are asking G-d to forgive us for those sins that can be attributed to our being in a confused state.
Can we be blamed for sins committed because of a mental haze placed upon us as a punishment for previous sins? Absolutely, since we were the cause of being put in that state. This creates a nice symmetry between the first “al cheit” and the last one. The first, when we confess and ask forgiveness for those sins committed “against our will,” refer to sins beyond our ability to overcome, yet need forgiveness because they are only beyond our ability to choose because of other choices we’ve made (see page 2 of www.aishdas.org/ta/5768/yomKippur.pdf). Similarly, the last one (“simhon leivav”), would be sins committed because we are in a state of confusion, a state we are in because of sins we committed before entering that state. Nevertheless, we are responsible for sins committed while in a state of confusion even if being in that state is unconnected to our own actions.
The expression “simhon leivav” literally translates as having a confused heart, rather than a confused mind. The term “heart” is often used to refer to our thought process, rather than the beating organ that pumps blood. More specifically, though, it refers to our natural state (which changes as we change), the starting point in our thought process before our intellect (hopefully) examines our initial reaction to things and determines whether that initial reaction should remain intact or be adjusted. [It can be argued that “free-will” only comes into play from the moment we have the ability to examine our initial reaction and adjust our actual course of action.] This “intellectual filter” is vital, and is what becomes impaired under the influence of alcohol. The first step in becoming a better person, and a holier person, is to use our intellect to help us decide what we should or shouldn’t do, even if it doesn’t coincide with what our “heart” wants. But real change only occurs when our “heart” is affected by the choices our “brain” made. Not just when our actions change because of these decisions, but when that starting point — what we actually want, even before the intellect kicks in — improves as well.
When in a state of confusion (no matter how it came about), our ability to use our intellectual filter is severely impaired, and we are left primarily with our (current) starting point. Ideally, that starting point would include not wanting to sin, and not allowing sin. Unfortunately, this is not always the case, and there are sins that might be committed when in a state of confusion that would not have been committed under “normal” circumstances. Even if/when we cannot be held accountable for being in a state of confusion, we are held accountable for those sins committed while in that state, since we should be/should have been on the level of not sinning even when we lose our “filter.”
Yes, sometimes being in a state of confusion is a punishment. But even if it is (as well as when it is not), our natural instinct should be to avoid sin, not commit any. We therefore ask G-d to forgive us for those sins committed “b’simhon leivav.”