This week begin the Ten Penitential Days. In those days, traditionally, Jews repent for their misdeeds during the past year and ask for forgiveness from both each other and the Maker of the world. Looking at the past year, however, it seems as though the whole world needs to go through a process of repentance. Instead of praying for the tragedies to stop, we must understand that we brought them on ourselves, so if we stop what we are doing wrong, the tragedies will stop, as well.
Repentance does not mean remorse. It means, first and foremost, a reflection on what we did wrong, and a commitment to change it going forward.
When I was a child, I could get away with almost anything. My parents and everyone around me forgave my naughtiness and attributed it to my age. As I grew up, people gradually changed their attitude toward me; they became stricter and harsher, and sometimes even punished me, and I didn’t understand why. When I asked my mother about it, she explained to me that I was no longer a little boy, and that since I was growing up, I had to behave accordingly. And when I didn’t, they reproved me.
We are all in that state now. We, the human race, are no longer children. We have grown up, become extremely powerful, yet we remain as mischievous as when we were children. As a result, everyone around us, the whole of reality, is telling us off. Just as grownups punished me when I did not meet the level of maturity they had expected of me, nature punishes us when our behavior is infantile compared to how we should behave.
The difference between a child and a grownup is in the relation toward others. A child sees only itself; a grownup sees the collective, and oneself as a contributing and positive part of the collective. A child enjoys getting what it wants; a grownup enjoys contributing to the collective, to the community, and finds reward and satisfaction in the joy of others.
Nature is urging us to go in this direction: to become more considerate and caring. The natural disasters of the past year (and the years before) are not nature’s punishments; they are the consequences of our previous thoughtlessness toward each other and toward nature. If we change our mindset, they will stop, as it is our self-absorbed mindset that causes them.
The Ten Penitential Days are a reminder for all of us to reflect on how we treat each other. It is a chance to acknowledge the harm that we are causing through our narcissism, and make a common effort to reform ourselves, for everyone’s benefit.