If the approach of the High Holidays is stirring up anxiety, guilt, & shame, then it’s time to rethink everything we’ve been taught about Hashem, Torah, & Judaism.
Many view this period of preparation for the upcoming Yomim Noraim as a time to begin repenting for their “sins” from the past year. It is true that now is a time to look back and introspect, but there is a much deeper and more productive approach to this season than the self-flagellating focus on our offenses and faults.
First, we must understand what “sin” really is. Isaiah writes that “your sins have separated between you and your G-d” (Isaiah 59:2). Here the prophet seems to suggest that our sins cause us to be separated from G-d. But this raises an obvious question: how is it possible for anyone or anything to be separate from G-d?! If He is One – as we pronounce daily in the Shema – and thus everywhere and everything at once, then how can we be distinct or distant from Him? In truth, we cannot. And in fact, we never were. At the deepest level there is nothing but Him alone. Sin, therefore, does not, and cannot, separate us from G-d from His vantage. It can, however, create an obstruction from our perspective and in the realm of this physical world.
Understood this way, sin is the layer of interference and concealment that we create between ourselves and our Creator through actions that deny His omnipresence. As a result of these actions, we impose an additional layer of crust around ourselves, so to speak, and we therefore become even less perceptive of, and receptive to, G-d. Sin is thus the curtain or barrier that we erect ‘between’ us and Him which makes it more difficult for us to perceive and reveal the truth of His infinite light. Though we are ultimately no more ‘distant’ from G-d after we have sinned than before – because G-d is everywhere equally – nevertheless, each sin is simply an act that envelops us in another layer that makes us less capable of seeing the Godliness within us and around us.
With this conception of sin, we realize that our work at this time is not to beat ourselves up for the things we have done wrong. Rather we are to consider the ways in which we have created distance and obstruction between ourselves and the ultimate truth of our reality. The regret is that we have made it more difficult for ourselves to connect with G-d and every aspect of His creation. The resolve is to remove the blockages we have erected so that we can experience Hashem’s Oneness within and around us. The expectation is that we will thereby align ourselves with our ultimate meaning and purpose, and the new year will be a “Shana tova/Good year” indeed.