Sanhedrin, Chapter Six, Mishnah Two
Mishnah two discusses the confession that the convict is to make before he is executed. In Rabbinic theology, the confession allows the execution to expiate the convict of his crime, thereby causing him to die clean of all sins.
1) When he is about ten cubits away from the place of stoning, they say to him, confess, for such is the practice of all who are executed, that they [first] confess, for he who confesses has a portion in the world to come.
a) For so we find in the case of Achan, that Joshua said to him, My son, pay honor to the Lord, the God of Israel, and make confession to him. [Tell me what you have done, do not hold anything back from me. And Achan answered Joshua and said, It is true, I have sinned against the Lord the God of Israel, and this is what I have done (Josh. 7:19-20).
i) And how do we know that his confessions made atonement for him?
ii) As it says, And Joshua said, What calamity have you brought upon us! The Lord will bring calamity upon you this day (Josh. 7:35), [meaning] this day you are a calamity, but you are not to be a calamity in the next world.
b) And if he does not know how to confess, they say to him, Say, may my death be an expiation for all my sins.
2) Rabbi Judah said: If he knows that he is a victim of false evidence, he can say: may my death be an expiation for all my sins but this.
a) They [the sages] said to him: If so, everyone will speak likewise in order to clear himself.
Section one: When the convict reaches ten cubits distance from the place where he is to be stoned, he is asked to confess of his crimes. The mishnah teaches that anyone who confesses, no matter how heinous their crime, has a place in the world to come. This lesson is based the story of Achan in the book of Joshua. When Joshua conquered Jericho, the people were not supposed to take anything from the city. Rather they were supposed to kill anything that was alive and bring only the silver and gold to the treasury. Achan violated this ruling and took from the proscribed property of Jericho. As a punishment God causes Israel to lose their subsequent battle at Ai (Joshua, chapter 7). When Joshua figures out that their loss was due to Achans taking from the proscribed property, he sentences Achan to death for having violated Gods word not to take from the property of Jericho. Joshua requests of Achan to confess his crime, which he subsequently does. The innovation that our mishnah makes is that this confession expiates Achan of his crime and Achan therefore has a place in the world to come. Joshua says to Achan, What calamity have you brought upon us! The Lord will bring calamity upon you this day. The simple sense of the verse is that God is punishing Achan and carrying out the punishment today. The midrashic reading of our mishnah is that God is punishing Achan only today, and he will not punish him tomorrow. Achan, therefore, has a place in the world to come.
Even one who does not know how to confess is taught how to do so. The Rabbis are concerned that although the criminals time in this world is drawing to a close, he should still be able to have a share in the world to come.
Section two: The mishnah ends with a dispute between Rabbi Judah and the Sages. According to Rabbi Judah, if the convicted person does not believe that he was guilty, he need not ask for forgiveness for this sin. Rather he can make a general statement, asking for forgiveness from other sins. The Sages disagree with Rabbi Judah. If convicted people were allowed to make such a confession, everyone would do so, in order to give the impression that they were dying innocent. Rather, if he will not confess to this crime he is not allowed to confess to any crime.
Questions for Further Thought:
· Section two: Why are the Sages so afraid of the convicted person not confessing to this specific sin? What do they mean when they say everyone will speak likewise in order to clear himself?