Reb Yisrael of Ruzhin once taught: “This is the prayer of my teacher, Rabbi Dov Ber of Mezritch: ‘Ribbono shel Olam! (Master of the Universe!) Your people have suffered such a long exile! And why? Only because of stubbornness — Yours and ours! We have a long-standing argument, You and us.
“We say to You, ‘Return us O God unto You, and we shall return!’ You say to us, ‘Return to Me, and I will return to you.’ (Malachi 3:7; Zechariah 1:3) And because of this mutual stubbornness You withhold our Redemption. Well, You have told us to follow Your ways. If You won’t budge, we won’t budge. This I swear to You: The Children of Israel will not return until Redemption!”
Reb Yisrael then added, “I agree with my teacher that we will not repent until the Messiah comes because we have a legitimate claim against God. And I suspect God will not send the Messiah until we first repent because God has a legitimate claim against us. But there is a way out of this impasse.
“We read in our siddur (Hebrew prayer book), ‘Because of our sins we were exiled from our land.’ If this is true, then we should return to God before God returns to us. But the Hebrew word ‘because’ can also mean ‘before,’ and thus the prayer might say, ‘Before we sinned we were already fated for exile.’ Therefore, Ribbono shel Olam, just as You condemned us to exile before we sinned, You should now redeem us from exile before we repent!”
The feeling of being in exile from God is part of the human condition, but it is only a feeling, a perception — and a misperception at that. It arises from our misunderstanding of the nature of God and creation. We imagine that God is separate from creation in the way a potter is separate from her pots. But God is infinite and without boundaries, and hence incapable of being separate from, or other than, anything. God is everything; yet, given God’s infinite creativity, everything that God is is unique. Just as no two waves are exactly alike and yet all waves are a manifestation of the ocean, so, too, no two human beings are alike, yet each is a manifestation of God.
Your sense of exile is not a punishment but a misreading of the gift of uniqueness. It is through you and your uniqueness that God manifests and experiences the vast diversity of life. This diversity need not be at the expense of a higher unity, however.
Unity and diversity are both givens. The challenge is to see the latter as a manifestation of the former. The answer to human diversity is not human uniformity; we are not richer for being less creative. The answer to human diversity is to see that it is rooted in Divine Unity. Your very sense of exile comes from the One from Whom you cannot be in exile.