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‘The Joy of Regret’

*The following is an excerpt from “Inviting God In” by Rabbi David Aaron. The book explores the holidays as times to personally connect with God, and it focuses on why we celebrate rather than on how to celebrate. *


On Yom Kippur you can confess all your transgressions to God with the realization that they too can contribute to His plan. On Yom Kippur, when God’s oneness is so manifest, the mention of your transgressions can be a source of greater light. On Yom Kippur, when God’s oneness is so revealed and the light of His eternal love for us is shining, you don’t need to be afraid or ashamed like on Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgment. Confess your transgressions even a million times. In fact, it’s good to be as clear and precise as you can, because on Yom Kippur you actually experience greater love precisely from every single wrong you regret you did.

Moments of love are the best times to remember when we wronged each other, because when we feel so at one with each other we are able to appreciate how the conflict of the past actually served to enhance our unity. In a funny way, conflicts are great for relationships. Once the storm calms and we stop yelling at each other, we suddenly feel so foolish; we then uncontrollably embrace and profusely apologize. In the back of our minds, however, there is a very strange sense of satisfaction that this was a great fight. The conflict, alienation, and separation that it created actually contributed to a heightened awareness of our true love and eternal oneness.

The best time to remember our mistakes and wrongdoings and ask forgiveness of our beloved is in moments of love. The contrast between the bad times that were and the good time that is happening right now generates even greater feelings of love and appreciation. Therefore, the dark conflicts of the past, when viewed in the present light of love, actually serve to intensify the brilliance and warmth of the moment.

Yom Kippur, however, is more than a moment of love — it is a full day. And it reveals the truth that God’s love forever shines upon us. It is only our foolish attitudes and wrongdoings that have blocked out the light, creating the dark shadows in our life. As the prophet Isaiah said in the name of God, “It is only your wrongdoing that separates you and Me.” In other words, it is our misdeeds that cause us to feel that we and God are separate. But that is untrue. We are forever one with God, and there is nothing that we can do to change that fact, although there is much that we can do to conceal that fact.

On Yom Kippur the timeless truth of God’s oneness — and humanity’s oneness with God — is bright and clear. So on Yom Kippur, let yourself go. Remember every dumb, wrong thing you ever did that seemed to separate you from God, because on Yom Kippur this only adds to the ecstasy of love and the joy of forgiveness. On Yom Kippur the dark illusion of separateness enhances the incredible light of your oneness with God. God allows you to make mistakes and do wrong, because He knows that eventually the painful feelings of alienation will increase and enhance the ecstasy of your love.

I have heard it explained that the first couple, Adam and Eve, ate of the forbidden fruit because they wanted to increase their awareness of God’s oneness and their closeness with God by creating a contrast to it — separateness. It was a noble attempt, but it got them (and all of humanity) into terrible trouble. This is why the Talmud teaches that you should never think, “I will transgress, so that I can later apologize (and feel even closer to God as a result),” just as you can’t say, “I will start a fight with my spouse so that we can make up later and better appreciate how much we really love each other.” It just doesn’t work that way. But don’t worry, plenty of opportunities present themselves for fights with your spouse — you don’t have to create them. And there are plenty of times that you will transgress, without any need for planning. But when conflict and breakdowns happen, it’s good to know that even the fight can be used to enhance your love.

On Yom Kippur we can find the blessing in all our evil deeds and wrongdoings. This, of course, is true only if we sincerely regret what we’ve done and commit that we will never return to those foolish ways again. Only then can we appreciate that everything we did that took us so far away from God is now helping to revitalize and increase our feelings of closeness and love for God. If we realize that, then all the conflict was worth it. The past is redeemed in that moment. And then all the pain of the past turns into ecstatic pleasure.

When you fight with your spouse, one reason to make up is fear. You fear that she will tell all your friends what a jerk you are, or he will lock you out of the house. Therefore, to save yourself the discomfort, you say you are sorry. However, there is another, higher reason to make up: you could apologize for the sake of love. You realize how silly it is to fight with the one you love, the one with whom you are one. For a moment you lost your mind and forgot how much you really care for this person and how deep and eternal is your connection. The issue of contention was so petty compared to the power and beauty of your soul connection to each other.

When you apologize because you fear punishment, you successfully end the argument and prevent further damage. But you don’t cash in on your conflict — the fight was simply a waste of energy, and this is really just a ceasefire. But when love motivates you, then the conflict turns into a force that promotes an even greater awareness of your oneness and adds to your love. Then, you actually gain.

So it is when we fight with God, so to speak, as when we transgress His commandments and turn against His will. Turning away from God causes separation and alienation and is the opposite of a mitzvah, the purpose of which is to promote God’s oneness and our oneness with God — to reveal the light of love. But when separateness is recycled to promote oneness, then really what you have is a mitzvah.

However, this conversion of a wrong into a right, into a mitzvah, can happen only when our return to God is motivated by our love for God and our desire to experience God’s oneness and our oneness with Him. Return to God motivated by fear of punishment does not accomplish this transformation. Return out of fear still comes from a perspective that we exist separate from and independent of God — that we are here on earth and God is over there in heaven — but that we should not act against God’s will for fear of punishment. Return from fear cancels out the negative effects of wrongdoing, but it cannot transform it into the positive force of a mitzvah like return from love, which empowers us to cash in on our previous debts. Yom Kippur is cash-in day. It offers the perfect ambience to return to God in love, redeem our dark past, and turn it into light.

Reprinted by arrangement with Trumpeter Books, www.shambhala.com.

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