The Mystery & The Puzzle
David Morris writes in “The Culture of Pain” that to a doctor, pain is a puzzle, but to a patient it is a mystery, in the ancient sense of the word, a truth necessarily closed off from full understanding, which refuses to yield every quantum of its darkness: “a landscape where nothing looks entirely familiar and where even the familiar takes on an uncanny strangeness.”
I study the Vidui, the Yom Kippur Confession, and immediately experience the mystery of pain. I grew up observing people weeping as they recited the Vidui. When asked, they would describe the pain they felt over their mistakes, and how undeserving they were of God’s blessings. I never heard that approach from my father zt”l, but it left its mark. Here I am, pained over my imperfections and failings. I am viewing my life through the eyes of the Vidui, the things I could be doing better, and the landscape looks different from my regular perspective. I try to observe all that I do through the eyes of God’ Judgment, not my daily perspective, and everything becomes slightly unfamiliar. I become a mystery to myself. Why is it so difficult to change? Why do I repeat the same mistakes year after year? In my regular view, my anger was appropriate. In the Vidui’s view, the situation is different; there was no call for anger and resentment.
If my Vidui causes me to see me and my life as mysteries, how will it help me change in practical ways? Are Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur about the mysteries of life or the way we deal with what we perceive?
I decided to take the physician’s perspective; that of a puzzle, not a mystery. I acknowledge the pain and attempt to understand it as a piece of the huge puzzle of a human being struggling with life: “Is the pain another piece in the complex puzzle of my life?”
For some people, the pain is how they experience Teshuva – they only feel that they are doing Teshuva when they feel pain over their mistakes. They want to feel the pain. It becomes an essential part of their religious life: “If I can’t live at a higher level, I will, at least, be pained that I cannot. The pain is my way of exculpating my inadequacies.” The pain has become part of the person’s service. It is one piece of the puzzle; a piece that adds pain to their spiritual lives. They do not believe in the pure joy of serving God; it must come with some pain.
That cannot be the intent of the Vidui.
The Vidui lays out a structure that describes our struggle with mastering a spiritual life challenged by the mundane. It lists the daunting challenges of living a God oriented life. It lays out the map of how spiritual yearnings may mislead us. It points out where we are straying from the path to success. I can pinpoint my mistakes and sigh in relief, not pain, as I realize where and how I can return to my path.
The Vidui helps me identify the source of my pain, and repair it. It is not intended to cause pain, but to identify it at its source. It restores the joy in my service of God. It heals me. It empowers me to move forward without pain.
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