On Yom Kippur, we stand facing our mortality and the fragility of human existence. Here on Earth, in our lives, is where we learn the meaning of being human; we hurt and are hurt, we cry and laugh, we make mistakes and are given the chance to make up for them and learn from them. When we left Ganeyden, we left with a newfound knowledge of good and evil, right and wrong, harm and reconciliation. It is so integral to who we are, as beings with free-will.
How lucky we are to be flawed! How grateful we are for our imperfections! How thankful we are that our messy, broken, yearning lives, and the Torah itself, are here on Earth, and not in heaven! It is precisely because of our imperfections, that we could choose evil over good that makes humans the ideal recipients of the Mitzvos, which guide us to carry righteousness out through our bodies. We are not perfect, and our world is not perfect, because this is where God’s holiness is apparent: in our striving towards the righteousness that should be–but which is not–guaranteed.
While the Good is that for which we strive, the Evil exists in direct service to HaShem, so that in overcoming it we draw closer to Them. In our relationships with HaShem and with each other, we yearn for betterness in our communities, in ourselves, and from God, knowing that perfection may never come. It is striving, choosing good over evil, and carrying out this choice through our actions, which makes us what we are.
Every year, we come together to collectively address the harm we have caused, “under duress or willingly, by hard-heartedness, knowingly or unknowingly, intentionally or unintentionally,” as it is written in Al Kheyt. We beg for redemption knowing all the while that we will be here again in another year, confessing wrongs that we haven’t yet committed but which we know will come. In saying “we have sinned” we hear the echo of Cain crying out, “Am I my brother’s keeper?!” and we answer, “Yes!” We are affirming our responsibility for each others’ actions and entanglement in each others’ fates. The cyclical nature of our knowing that we will hurt and be hurt, forgive and be forgiven, is the breath that sustains us, the rhythm of our lives. This understanding creates communities where each individual realizes the importance of sustaining the social fabric.
Acknowledgement of our interdependence is what makes accountability possible. Underneath our obligation to forgive those who harm us is the understanding that elsewhere there are people from whom we must seek this same forgiveness. Somewhere in this balance we are able to maintain a healthy community that can sustain us all.