Regarding good and evil—“No matter how we behave or where we are, we will get away with anything in the end because God is good and benevolent to our people.” That is the usual Jewish calculation for Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. To put it plainly and simply: Think twice, because this is pure nonsense. Our “special treatment” can actually be summarized as constant blows steadily pushing us toward deep soul-searching about our self-centered and harmful behavior toward others. The very admission of our uncorrected state, however, is a great step toward the true prayer we need, one that will bring forgiveness and redemption.
But what is a true prayer? It is an internal process of self-scrutiny that brings one to the understanding that I have a problem, that I cannot seek any justification for how I am or my egoistic desires and actions for self-benefit at the expense of others. This is the nature each of us was created with and inherited from birth, so in order to rise above it and desire to be truly considerate of others, we need to cry out to the Creator for help, for correction.
This year, the coronavirus pandemic presents a special opportunity for such an entreaty. Our dire straits situation works as a help against us by adding urgency to our appeal. The congregational restrictions need not interfere with the essence or efficacy of our prayer. Physical connection has nothing to do with what happens in the heart, the spiritual place where prayer takes place. Instead of standing as an obstacle to our connection, physical separation will reveal the true distance between us, the great gaps and separation between our hearts.
Through the unpleasant troubles of our times, we may finally discover what it is that we should be asking for. If we reach such a discernment, this current crisis will be an invaluable help to us. As it is written,
“There is no happier moment in a person’s life than when he discovers how absolutely powerless he is and loses faith in his own strength since he exerted all possible efforts that he was able to, but reached nothing. This is because precisely at this moment, during this state, he is ready for a complete and clear prayer to the Creator.”
– Kabbalist Rav Yehuda Ashlag, Pri Hacham: Igrot Kodesh.
We must pray to heal the wounds we inflict on each other in our daily lives, when we treat everyone and everything around us with disregard and lack of consideration, pursuing only our personal goals against the common good.
Thus, the real sin is the fact that I do not want to know what my sin is, how I harm others. Just that. Because if I had known, then it would have been clear to me that I should have turned to the Creator asking for correction. In our current state of unawareness, we are unable to discover in our actions the real situation we face. We do not think that our qualities and actions are really that bad.
My sin is that I do not reveal my true evil, do not attribute it to myself, and refuse to think that I need to change. I do not ask to be able to love others, help everyone, and sacrifice myself even a little for the sake of humanity. I never even think about it. So the realization that we must come to in the first place is that this is our sin, and this should be the place of real remorse in our hearts.
In our globalized world, it becomes clearer every day that humanity is increasingly connected and interdependent. Everything in reality is so intricately intertwined that even if I do not actively cause harm to anyone, it does not mean that I have caused no evil. I simply did not do good to them, therefore, by that omission I caused harm. Our inaction is also our transgression. So, instead of trying to fix the world, we first need to fix ourselves and learn how to be an example to others.
Particularly on this Yom Kippur, while facing a powerful plague of nature in the form of the coronavirus, we can come to terms with the realization that the situation gives each of us an opportunity for profound introspection. We can realize that a real prayer is not a mechanical reading of verses but a deep scrutiny of ourselves that moves us closer to an honest request for unity as our ultimate goal.
May we all achieve true connection of our hearts and be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life for a good year!