Hiding the Meaning – Parshat Vayelech/Yom Kippur

Central to logotherapy, the school of psychology this blog most relates to, is the concept that Man's most basic motivation is to find meaning in his life. "Man’s search for meaning is the primary motivation in his life and not a “secondary rationalization” of instinctual drives,"1 says Dr. Viktor Frankl, the founder of logotherapy. Lacking meaning in his life, Man can feel lost, empty and frustrated and develop feelings of existential vacuum, anxiety and depression. Once Man is aware of meaning, the knowledge that meaning exists even if he has not yet found his specific meaning, provides him with the confidence needed to continue until he finds his own, unique path.

So it is with some dis-ease that I read the following idea in this past week's parsha. There will come a time, we are told, when we as a people will worship  idols (this has really happened). If that happens then God may decide to "hide the hiding of His face".2 Huh? Can you say that in English? The grandson of the famed Baal Shem Tov, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Ephraim of Sudilkov, noticed this strange wording as well. He explains that simply by hiding, God is already challenging us to find our way back. But at least we know that He is hidden and we trust the process. We still maintain, as mentioned above, a connection to ultimate meaning.

In the next phase, however, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Ephrayim explains, God  hides the fact that He is hiding. It is, then, that much more difficult for us to hook into our relationship with Him. Our ability to find meaning becomes even more strained and we don’t even know that 'meaning' is hidden. This is scarier. We are not only devoid of meaning. We don’t even know it's been lost. How can we search for something we don’t even know is missing?? How sad is that situation. He is hiding His hiding…and we are lost. The meaning is still there. It is just very well hidden. Only when we truly believe that it is still there, that there is meaning and that someone (perhaps with a capital 's') is navigating the course can we start hooking back into ultimate meaning.

In my clinical work, I have found that there are clients who are totally unaware of the concept of meaning. They live their lives on survival mode all the time not realizing that there may be a greater plan. Or they may be stuck in a routine so limiting , they are not open to noticing anything outside of work, eat and sleep. This creates a tenuous sense of confidence and can cause great anxiety. Just working towards understanding that meaning is always there already produces a great sense of relief on the one hand and a belief that the process will eventually lead to a positive and quick outcome (which usually happens). Their level of confidence rises while their anxiety lessens.

Trusting that there is always meaning can be very challenging in certain situations. We can be so caught up in trying to fix things or in feeling the pain or in righting the path that we have no energy left for searching for meaning. But even as we try to rise to the challenge we can remember the encouraging words of Helen Keller: "Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it."3

As we approach Yom Kippur, we prepare to ask forgiveness for past mistakes and we pray fervently for health, income, peace and more. We find that from the pain and suffering we can use that energy to reach out and pray to God to fix things for us, knowing all the while that even in what may seem to be the darkest of times, He is also the source of meaning.

Gmar chatima tova! ! !


  1. Frankl, Viktor E.. Man's Search for Meaning (p. 99). Beacon Press. Kindle Edition.
  2. Devarim 31:18
  3. This quote has been attributed to Helen Keller though I did not find a source for it

Have A Great Shabbat!laughing

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