No Monsters Allowed
“He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.” Fredric Nietzsche – From Beyond Good and Evil
How ironic that he did not heed his own warning: In 1889, Nietzsche suffered a terrible mental breakdown in Turin after watching a horse get beaten savagely by a coachman. Nietzsche never fully recovered his sanity, and died eleven years later in 1900.
What happens to us when we repeatedly recite the Vidui, the Yom Kippur Confessions, and we confront the monsters we fight? We believe that it is monstrous to speak negatively of others. We fight the monster and beat our chests. We battle the monster today, and yet, “He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster.” Hopefully, we will be more sensitive in our speech after Yom Kippur, but we have taken that monster on in battle. He will reappear determined to turn us into him.
I have watched people suffer, not a breakdown, but a sense of defeat as they look back over the year and recall scenes of actions of which they are ashamed. I hear people describe themselves as “Feeling evil,” after reciting the Vidui. They are not empowered by their Teshuvah process, but weakened and disheartened. Their monsters seem to win.
It is no wonder that the high point of Yom Kippur is not when we stare into the abyss, but when the Kohen Gadol stands in the Holy of Holies and peers into Infinity. This was even more powerful during the Second Temple era when the Holy of Holies stood empty. The Kohen Gadol could have seen the empty space and groaned, but he did not. There were, of course, some Kohanim Gedolim who placed the incense on the coals before entering because they wanted the smoke to fill the space, so that they would not have to see the emptiness for even a second. The great Kohanim entered, saw the empty space as a portal into Infinity. They saw possibility, not the abyss. They saw what could be, rather than what was not.
It was at that moment, when the Kohen Gadol entered and saw the empty space before making the cloud of incense rise, that he made the most important Yom Kippur choice: He did not see monsters. He saw what all of us could become. He did not battle monsters; he fought against the very urge to see monsters. It was at the moment when he was reciting the Vidui that he articulated God’s Holy Name, and all bowed. He saw God’s gifts to us even as reciting the Vidui. He, and those watching and listening, rejoiced in our ability to see our potential even as reciting the Vidui. No monsters were allowed.
No wonder we sing the Vidui. It is at that moment when we rid our lives of monsters, and see ourselves as human beings, throbbing with possibility.
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