Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, has passed. The great ledger has closed. But is our time for atonement truly finished?
The Hebrew word most commonly associated with atonement is teshuva. During the weeks leading up to Yom Kippur, it is our objective to do teshuva, atone for our sins, ask forgiveness of those we’ve wronged, and await our final judgment from God, if He hasn’t already made a decision about us on Rosh Hashannah, the true Judgment Day.
Teshuva does not only refer to atonement or repentance for one’s sins. The actual root of the word, shuv, means “to return.” When we are tasked with doing teshuva, not only are we atoning for our sins, but we are returning to our truest state. We are returning to God.
Why must we return to God?
In a day and age where we pride ourselves on our own accomplishments, our technology, and our incredible knowledge – of physics, history, biology, and more – why must we believe in some omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent being?
Haven’t we conquered the infinite?
Aren’t we truly Godlike?
Have we not become like those doomed builders of the Tower of Babel, eager to make a name for ourselves as we wage war against God – in our schools, in our media, in ourselves – now easily scaling the barriers of language?
And are we not like Sodom and Gomorrah, which was destroyed by fire and sulfur?
Perhaps in our age of nations brimming over with their multitudes, in our age of “natural phenomena” and “scientific explanations,” we could have easily overlooked the situation in Sodom and Gomorrah as just another normal, natural catastrophe.
And, indeed, many catastrophic events in the Torah have occurred through natural, scientifically plausible means.
But we ignore God who is behind all. We shun Him. We mock Him and ridicule those who dare to insinuate that natural and scientific phenomena could ever come from an omnipotent being. Because we will master the omnipotent; we are mastering the omniscient; and we are grasping at omnipresence – all through the wonders of technology.
And so a massive, devastating earthquake is nothing more than tectonic plates colliding. A hurricane is simply a storm with a violent wind. A man going on a shooting rampage is one bad apple in a sea of mostly normal people.
Rage has been normalized, blood-lust shrugged off. Violence is commonplace, sex is cheap, and the lives of so many are next to worthless. If you ever ask anyone, “Why?” You’ll hear answers like: it’s human nature. We’re animals. YOLO, party it up. Move on, forget about it. Life is short, let’s do what we want. I’m right, and screw anyone who doesn’t agree with me.
We have been driven by insatiable animal souls which drive us to lust, rage, violate, and disrespect. We may not be taking guns to concerts, we may not be pulling the trigger ourselves, but we destroy humanity with our wretched words and our rotting hearts.
And no one is innocent. We are all culpable. We all have a critical absence of humanity within ourselves that needs to be checked. The insanity we are witnessing in the world is a reflection of an insanity within ourselves. A disconnect. A rottenness. We are looking at a world which is ugly, cruel, and cold, and it is that way because we have allowed it to be. We have let our evil fester and our baseness rule over us. Our shame has been warped and mangled into something we wear with pride.
And like the Tower of Babel, we will be toppled. Like Sodom and Gomorrah, we are watching fire consume our land. Buildings collapse around us, houses are being ripped from their foundations, and the clamor of the citizens of the world has grown to a deafening level.
Will we be like the king of Nineveh who repented?
Or will we be consumed?
Woe to those who speak of evil as good and of good as evil; who make darkness into light and light into darkness; they make bitter into sweet and sweet into bitter.
Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and in their own view, of profound understanding. Woe to those who are mighty in drinking wine and are men of accomplishment in pouring liquor. They acquit the wicked one because of a bribe, and strip the righteous one of his innocence.
Therefore, just as a tongue of fire consumes straw, and a flame destroys stubble, so will their root become rot and their flower will be blown away like dust; for they have abhorred the Torah of Hashem, Master of Legions, and they have scorned the word of the Holy One of Israel.