When I was a child I used to enjoy the “match it” newspaper quiz. In the magazine’s last pages, right next to the crosswords, one human image was portrayed, with a few silhouettes next to it. All silhouettes seemed quite similar, but -alas- only one was the image’s real silhouette. The challenge for six years old me was to find which one it was, and to match it to the original (without cutting the paper, that is).
Why So Negative?
The Viduyim said these days are many, both in quality and quantity. A thought may creep into our minds: Isn’t it too much? Is it necessary? Are we in for a guilt trip here? Am I not, after all, a basically good person? Reading our sins from Aleph to Tav may make us seem negative in our own eyes. Doesn’t it bring us to despair?
True, we have to do cheshbon hanefesh, introspection, this time of year. But even the Mesilat Yesharim, perhaps the world’s greatest advocate for cheshbon hanefesh, talks about involving the positive in this process, in order to strengthen the good points1. Can’t we throw in a good word two in the midst of it all?
You & You
The pasuk in Shir HaShirim (2:14) says: הראיני את מראיך “show me your looks¨. Why does the verse use the plural form? The Zohar says that a Jew has two “looks”, two images: one is the earthly one, the one that lives and acts. The other one is the ideal one, the one that is what we can and should be; our fulfilled potential. The former is down here while the latter is in the higher spheres of Shamayim. In the Song of Songs, God is asking us to show Him our true colors- have both images fit. Yes, just like in the newspaper quiz.
Whenever Hashem addresses the Avot or Moshe Rabbenu by calling their name twice, it is referring- in one way or another- to this double image. In the Akeida Avraham came to his spiritual climax. At that high point both “Avrahams”- the existing one and the desired one a- matched each other perfectly.
Every Rosh Hashanah we are judged- did we get to our ideal image? Assuming we didn’t, how far is the distance between who we are and who we can and should be? How many dapim of Gemara did we study, out of the annual quota that was destined to us? How far did we grow in our avodat hamidot? How many minutes of the “heavenly” me were used constructively by the “earthly” me? We are not Avrahm Avinu, but the closer the two pictures are, the better we are.
Basically, I am a good person, hmm… basically.
One of today’s fashionable “lines” is “I am a basically good person”. There is a lot to it, and one must see his positive points, but the troublesome word here, basically, is just it: basically.
This comfy, oft said statement (Google it and see for yourselves just how many people around us are so basically good…) tells us that we are “sort of ok”, with our pros and cons, and thus not willing to move forwards. We remain right there, at the base. We will just keep sinking deeply into our very comfortable comfort zone, and there wait for Mashiach (in this mindset’s “frum” version), or alternatively decide that “God doesn’t really care if I … (do whatever I want), in the less orthodox version.
Almost despair… and then change
One great way to stay unchanged is to blame everyone else for our problems. If that doesn’t work, we can at least expect others to change for us, help us, do it all for us. These are all magic tricks that can be purchased in Western Society’s magic trick shop. We get it for free now, but pay later. And the price is high.
In The amazing story of Rabbi Elazar ben Dordeia, possibly the greatest ba’al teshuva of all times, the Talmud2 teaches us the direct opposite. A focal point in R’ Elazar’s teshuva process was when he addressed the mountains and hills, the sun and the moon etc. Tosafot explains that he was addressing the angels, the spiritual forces in charge of those parts of creation. Some say that the mountains and hills in the story were no other than our Holy Patriarchs. They all replied negatively. Even they can’t help him! How devastating!
He then came to a new realization, which turned things around: יב אלא יולת רבדה ןיא ” It is only up to me. Once he realized that there was no one to do the job for him, nobody to blame, nobody to pray on his behalf, once he felt almost helpless, came the change. The feeling that hit him may have been as devastating as the one we feel when we say Viduy. It is a feeling that touches that of despair. Reality hits us in the face. But only then we can choose not to sink but rather begin our climb upwards.
Shofar, not Mozart
The feelings that accompany us through the Days of Awe are many- joy, fear, festivity, regret… Yet one feeling is completely off the books now: Coziness.
Saying Viduy is not comfortable, just as the shofar’s blow sounds more like a war’s siren rather than Mozart3. These days we are not meant to feel comfortable. We don’t go to sleep on Rosh Hashanah; we remain alert. We wake up early every day. We take stock. We cry. We wake up from a yearlong slumber. “Adding a good word here and there” to our Viduy would muffle down this wakeup call, would downplay the unique “almost desperate” feeling. We would only lose from that.
Viduy is not about blackening ourselves. If we carefully examine its style, we see that it is written in a way that details the sins, showing us that improvement can be achieved by focusing on the averot, and then trying to “delete” them one by one.
I am basically good. Precisely because of it, I can now do away with the “basically” mode and begin my journey towards the real, fulfilled counterpart “me” that is waiting for me to arrive.
May we have a meaningful journey. Shana Tova.