In the Tochachah, the section of Parashat BeChukotai listing the punishments Bnei Yisrael will receive if they sin, the Torah states, “VeHitvadu Et Avonam VeEt Avon Avotam BeMaalam Asher Maalu Vi VeAf Asher Halechu Imi BeKeri. Af Ani Eileich Imam BeKeri VeHeiveiti Otam BeEretz Oiveihem Oh Az Yicana Levavam HeArel VeAz Yirtzu Et Avonam,” “Then they will confess their sin and the sin of their forefathers, for the treachery with which they betrayed Me, and also for having behaved toward me with casualness. I, too, will behave toward them with casualness and I will bring them in the land of their enemies — perhaps then their unfeeling heart will be humbled and they will gain appeasement for their sin” (VaYikra 26:40-41).
These Pesukim present an odd contradiction. On one hand, they state that Bnei Yisrael are confessing and repenting for their sins, but on the other hand they say that Hashem will punish them for this repentance. How can Hashem be punishing them for a positive action? The Chafetz Chaim explains that the Torah conveys an important message. The confession of one’s sins is not sufficient to achieve atonement. One must sincerely regret the sins he committed and change his behavior accordingly. If he does not do this, the repentance is worthless. This is the reason for Hashem’s punishment mentioned in the Pesukim. True repentance is accomplished by the change in a person’s behavior.
This is an essential principle that can be applied to all Mitzvot. It is very easy for someone on Yom Kippur to mention all the things that he did wrong the past year; the difficult part is to improve and to eliminate those faults. A common example is when someone loses his temper and insults someone, he regrets his behavior afterwards, but it is very difficult to change. As a result, he keeps apologizing, which does not accomplish anything if said without change. The other person wants him to stop berating him and a “sorry” does not accomplish this. The message of these Pesukim is that one must not only confess, but also change and improve his actions.