In the weeks leading up to Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), and especially on that holiest day of the year, many Jews repent last year’s sins. We ask God to forgive our sins against Him, and mainly against each other, and plead with Him to erase our “indictment.” We confess our sins before Him, and in return, expect Him to forgive us.
At the end of the fast, we sing with joy that our sins have been forgiven and God has forgiven our sins. And what do we do immediately afterwards? We begin to fill up next year’s sheet. This is a complete misunderstanding of the whole idea of Selichot—the request for the Creator’s forgiveness.
Every occasion on the Hebrew calendar symbolizes a stage in our transformation from selfishness to selflessness. This is the meaning of Tikkun—that we become good people, who want to do good to one another and strive to love our neighbors as ourselves.
Selichot is not permission to sin next year; it is a pledge to refrain from sin, a request of God to change our evil, selfish inclination into a good, giving inclination. If we resume our mistreatment of each other as soon as Yom Kippur is over, it’s as if we tried to cheat God. It doesn’t work.
We Jews have the obligation to correct ourselves and be a role model nation, “a light unto nations.” This is why all our holidays are about transformation from egoism to altruism. As long as we avoid it, we are pariahs in the eyes of the world, a pestilence the world wants to clean up and clear out. We ask why there is antisemitism and why Jews have suffered at the hands of the nations throughout the generations, but we ourselves are causing them to hate us through our abominable relation to our brethren.
Every non-Jew, and especially antisemites, examines closely how we treat each other. Even Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf that Jews unite only when a “common booty” entices them to cooperate, but otherwise, they are mean to one another. If we want atonement for our sins, we need to look at our past only in order to learn from it how to treat each other better, and ask God to give us the strength to keep our promise to Him, but mainly to each other.