The essential message of Yom Kippur is that everything depends on our spiritual condition. To the extent that we follow Hashem’s will, our life will be good. The economy is not the determining factor. Politics is not the determining factor. Social issues are not the determining factor.
The only thing that counts is our relationship with God. That’s it.
In Gan Eden the problems began with one rebellious act. Our ancient parents thought they knew better than God how to run the world, and it has been downhill ever since, with only one exception: when Hashem gave the Torah to the Jews at Har Sinai. This medicine will heal the world.
As the Gemara says, “I created the yetzer hara and I created Torah as its antidote” (Kiddushin 30b). All we need to do is take the medicine.
If we are tempted to blame Hashem for creating the yetzer hara, we would be making a big mistake because our battle against the yetzer hara is what enables us to achieve greatness. We would not want to be puppets, after all. So we have free will, and that free will enables us to choose either good or, God forbid, evil.
“Everything is in the hands of heaven except the fear of heaven” (Berachos 33b).
So Hashem created the yetzer hara, which enables us to rise to greatness by resisting it. Yosef HaTzaddik became the savior of his people as well as of Egypt all because he had the strength to overcome a huge temptation. And on Yom Kippur we spend the holiest day of the year completely engrossed in our determination to liberate ourselves from subjugation to the yetzer hara.
We are happy with our free will. We would not want it any other way, although it causes us so many problems. We keep getting ourselves into trouble, and we can blame our free will. I, for one, often do things I later regret, even though I have made the same mistake numerous times. If we would do only things we would never regret, our lives would be so much better. But we often fail to make the calculation before we act. That is the work of the yetzer hara.
There is such a thing as a perfect being. It is called an angel. Angels visit us every Friday night – at least, that is, when we welcome them. In fact, one would assume they are around all the time and we are simply not aware of them. Avraham Avinu was able to see and converse with them. Yaakov Avinu “sent angels” ahead of him to Eisav (Bereishis 32:4). Holy people are apparently very familiar with angels.
God creates angels to do His will; they do not have their own free will. That is why they have one leg (Berachos 10b). Two feet indicate a person could go either way. Since we like our free will, we would not want to be angels. But the interesting thing is that on Yom Kippur we act like angels for twenty-four hours. Why do we do that?
It seems that, ideally, we should be like angels. We should behave with perfect obedience to Hashem and do His will perfectly. In that case, we would have the power of angels and their extreme closeness to the King of the Universe. They serve Hashem with perfect devotion, entertaining not even a thought of rebellion. That’s why we say Shemoneh Esrei with our feet together, because we are demonstrating at that point our wholehearted devotion to Hashem and our determination to conquer our rebellious nature. We are imitating the angels.