I’m not a psychic, but I can predict with some certainty that this is going to happen to me: I am going to go to shul on Yom Kippur, look in my Machzor prayer book, and see my smorgasbord of sins clearly before me. I will feel slightly ashamed to be in this position, sitting before G-d, feeling like I’ve failed Him. Again. I will tell myself that I have made some improvements, “grown up” as they say, in my lifelong effort to find my place in the world, in service to Him, while I allow others to have their places as well. But on this day, I will remember the many times I have loved myself to a fault, only to see all too clearly that these are the exact times that cause me to hate myself. Especially on Yom Kippur.
It would appear that G-d wants it this way because that’s the way He created me–and everyone else from time immemorial. Self-love makes the world go round, and in order to keep each of us from letting it spin out of control, G-d also created Yom Kippur. So we can hate that part of ourselves that doesn’t leave room for others.
But if G-d truly wants us to perfect the world, why can’t we perfect ourselves?
It’s a question worth pondering.
Chassidic teaching emphasizes that most of us lack the ability to perfect ourselves, but it’s our mission to try nonetheless. We do this by refining our thoughts, speech and deeds, which are known in Chassidic parlance as “the garments of the soul.” This G-dly effort must be reconciled with the human self-love that propels us all, and thereby the world. G-d gave the Torah to teach us how to direct the totality of our energy, but we are still inevitably plagued by selfishness. We can’t eradicate this part of ourselves because it’s intrinsic to our humanness. Only G-d can eradicate this aspect of our being by transforming it, which is exactly what He will ultimately do by bringing Moshiach, the Messiah.
But until Moshiach comes and transforms us all, you’ll see things your way and I’ll see them mine. And we’ll both hate ourselves a little on Yom Kippur because we both know we each take up too much space.
The good news is that the older I get, the less this egotistical part of myself dominates my consciousness. There’s less fight in me, and my priorities are clearer. But if I’m still here, I still need to work on my own middos, character traits. And if Moshiach still isn’t here, I need to do more to bring him. Because Moshiach is waiting to transform the world into a place where everyone will openly see G-dliness; once and for all, there will be space for everyone.
In the coming year, I hope to better follow the Rebbe’s directive to “open our eyes and see” that Moshiach is already here. By doing that, I make Moshiach my reality, which, in addition to making me more pleasant to be around, helps to make Moshiach the world’s reality. It’s not all that hard to see where to improve–I can just look inside the Machzor and read the al cheit confessions.
The hard part, of course, is actually improving. I can try, and with G-d’s help, I will merit some success. But Yom Kippur is one fine day for recognizing the painful deficiency in my world and the whole world that only G-d can repair–by transforming creation’s essential nature, which is exactly what Moshiach’s arrival will accomplish.