Viduy is a concept that is no longer easily accessible to the mind of a modern man. He resists it. The process driven essence of modern life, where everything constantly changes and evolves makes the modern man impatient with the past and feeling that past does not truly matter. Teshuva begins to mean, " a change of course", an recognition that a behavior did not work and that a change in behavior or approach is needed. We tend to see teshuva as a change in direction, much in the same way that a CEO of a modern company perceives mistakes made - as a learning opportunity that moves his business forward. To a modern man there is no need for a sense of shame or regret that teshuva subsumes according to classic sources. There is nor reason to get emotional or to take it hard. We live and we learn and we change - that's life.
The requirement of Viduy as a part of teshuva stubbornly resists this characterization of Teshuva. It implies that repentance is something more than a change in direction. Is there a way in which a modern man can relate to Viduy?
The word is usually rendered as confession but it is certainly not a confession in the Catholic sense, although that concept often interferes when we try to understand what Viduy is.
I think that a better translation of the word Viduy in the context of Teshuva is Apology.
Unlike confession, Apology is a prominent and increasingly visible part of modern life. Politicians do it. Countries apologize for mistreatment of minorities and business executives apologize for insulting their customers. The average number of news stories about apologies printed every year in major newspapers in now just under 400. Apologizing has become the accepted way of dealing with personal errors as well. It is a topic to which increasing attention is being paid. I am currently reading the book "Apology", an excellent treatment of apology in media, business, government, popular culture and private life. Apology is "in".
One feature of Apology is that it requires a complete recognition of fault, or it is not effective and makes things worse. "I am sorry that you were upset", or , "I regret that you saw it this way", simple does not cut it. An effective apology leaves no doubt that the deed will not be repeated and an expression of sorrow, shame and guilt goes along way to its acceptance. The most effective apology is coupled with restitution, or at least an offer of restitution.
All these are features of Teshuva, which is why the model of Apology, to me, is a fruitful way to analyze both Viduy and Teshuva.
Thinking of Viduy as apology throws a new light on well-known halachos in Rambam, Chaper 1 of Laws of Repentance
1)If one transgressed any commandment of the Torah, whether a positive or a negative one, whether deliberately or accidentally, then when one repents one has to confess verbally to God, for it is written, "When a man or a woman commits any sin that people commit...then they shall confess their sin which they have done". This means verbal confession, which is commanded positively to do, and is performed by saying, `O Lord, I have sinned, transgressed and rebelled before You, and have done such- and-such, and I am ashamed by my actions and will never do it again'. This is the main part of verbal confession, and expanding on it is praiseworthy.
(Here you have the essence of simple and complete apology, holding nothing back, and no excuses)
A sin- or guilt-offering when brought because of sins committed either deliberately or accidentally are of no effect unless the person bringing it repents and confesses verbally, for it is written, "...that he shall confess that he has sinned in that matter". Similarly, capital and corporal punishment do not atone unless the recipient repents and confesses verbally. Likewise, if one does financial damage to someone one is not forgiven unless one repents and resolves never to do it again, even if one paid back the money, for it is written, "...any sin that people commit".
2) The goat sent to Azazel on the Day of Atonement is an atonement for all of Israel. The High Priest confesses verbally over it for all Jews, as it is written, "..and confesses over it all the iniquities of the Children of Israel". This goat atones for all transgressions of whatever severity of any of the Torah's commandments, whether they were committed deliberately or accidentally, whether the transgressor had confessed or not, provided that the guilty parties had repented, for without repentance the goat sent to Azazel repents only for the less-severe transgressions. Severe transgression are those which a Court of Law can punish by death, or which carry a penalty of excision, and also false oaths and falsehood, even though they do not bear a penalty of excision. Transgressions of negative commandments or other transgressions the transgression of which does not carry a penalty of excision are considered less-severe.
An apology is most effective when accompanied by restitution and evidence of financial sacrifice to make amends. Hence the importance of atonement to the teshuva process. It is also why Rambam lists atonement right after viduy.
May we be zokhe to teshuva shleima this Days of Awe!