As we explained in the previous blog, people tend to place more value on the final achievement of a goal, rather than on the endeavor itself. For instance, many people focus on getting their salaries at the end of the week, rather than on their actual work. How happy they feel when the work week is over and they have their paychecks in hand! For them, their work is merely a means toward receiving their money. This phenomenon is known to cause anxiety and even depression on the job. It can even lead to accidents, when a worker, daydreaming about the future, stops paying attention to what he is doing.
If a person approaches t’shuva with this attitude, he will always focus on his shortcomings and sin, and not on his yearning and efforts to redress them. As the saying teaches, one should not focus on the half of the glass that is empty, but rather on the half which is full. Not understanding that his efforts to improve are what matter, and not the idealized vision of himself which he has not as yet achieved, he will always feel anxious, unfulfilled and forlorn.
Rabbi Kook explains that this misplacing of priorities between the means and the goal stems from the sin of the earth during the days of Creation. By understanding the depth of this teaching, we can learn to be happy, not only when we finally attain our goals and ideals, but also at every moment of our lives.
When G-d curses Eve, the snake, and Adam, in the story of Creation, the earth is cursed with them, as it says, “The earth shall be cursed on your account” (Bereshit, 3:17). The Midrash asks why? Rabbi Yehuda Bar Shalom answers that the earth transgressed God’s command that the ground should give forth fruit trees which are fruit — not only was the fruit to be edible, the bark of the tree was supposed to be edible too, with the same taste as the fruit. The earth, however, brought forth trees which produced only edible fruit. The bark itself was tasteless (Bereshit Rabbah, 5:9).
Rabbi Kook writes:
At the beginning of Creation, the taste of the tree was supposed to have the same taste as the fruit. All of the means which are needed to sustain any lofty, all-encompassing spiritual goal, should rightly be experienced in the soul with the same exalted pleasantness which we feel when we picture the goal itself. However, the laws of nature, along with the instability of human life, and the heaviness of the spirit when it is enclosed in a physical body, caused that only the taste of the fruit — the actualization of the final, original, ideal goal — is experienced as pleasant and sweet. The trees which produce the fruit, though they be indispensable in the growth of the fruit, have become hard, solid matter, losing their taste. This is the sin of the earth, for which it was cursed along with Adam. But every blemish is destined to be perfected. Thus we are assured, without doubt, that the time will come when the world will return to its original state, when the taste of the tree will be the same as the taste of the fruit. For the earth will return from its sin, and the necessities of practical life will no longer restrict the pleasantness of the ideal light, which is supported and brought into being by these preliminary, practical means (Orot HaTshuva, 6:7).
How is the gulf between means and the goal, between the imperfect and the ideal, to be bridged? Through t’shuva. What will cause all of the details of human endeavor and the final building to merge in pleasant harmony? T’shuva. The light of t’shuva penetrates all of the details of life, all of the stages of mending and repair, and fills them all with the taste of the final ideal.
The discrepancy in taste between the fruit of the tree and the bark represents a vast, cosmic concept. Originally, God intended that everything in the world would be perceived in the same deep, inner light. According to the intended plan, people would have experienced every moment with the same joy as the final goal. They would have understood that the means are as important as the ideal, that all of the incompleteness and detailed work which go into achieving something are a part of the whole. With the sin of the earth, mankind lost the ability to appreciate the small things in life. People talk about the ideal future, about world peace, about universal equality, saving the environment, and the like, but the housekeeper’s boycott against ozone- destroying aerosol cans is seen as something less grand. On the contrary, what joy and sense of accomplishment she should feel knowing that she is making the world a better place!
With t’shuva, the means become as vital as the goal. T’shuva penetrates all of the details of life and uplifts them to God. Everything is seen as important and necessary in the refinement and perfection of the existence. T’shuva enters every sphere of life, illuminating all things with the light of the future ideal, giving inspiration to all of man’s work.
Rabbi Kook writes that the inner foundation of life is built upon t’shuva. Material existence, he explains, is based on a step-by-step descent from Divine spiritual spheres to the worldly. Thus there is a Divine spark in everything. This spark is like the DNA of existence. When a person is involved in any detailed spark of existence, it is as if he were involved with the entire world itself:
When we understand to what extent the tiniest details of life, the spiritual and the physical, contain, in microcosm, all of the general laws, and that every small detail has shadows of greatness in the depths of its essence, we will no longer wonder at the secret of t’shuva which penetrates man’s spirit so deeply, from the beginnings of his thoughts and beliefs, to the smallest details of his character and deeds (Ibid, 11:4).
When we understand that every fragment is a microcosm of the whole, and that each and every person is like a world in miniature, than how truly powerful is man! How influential is his each and every deed! For example, if a person stops speaking badly about other people, he not only improves himself, he improves his community. Because, he is connected to all of the cosmos, he improves all the universe. The smallest detail of t’shuva heals man and all of existence with it! His cries for salvation echo through every realm of existence and reach the Divine throne itself. “Out of the depths, I have called to You, O Lord” (Tehillim, 130:1). Man’s every gesture of t’shuva is filled with meaning, connecting the lowest regions to the most exalted heights, the smallest details to the grandest schemes. He is the sun around which all of life orbits. His thoughts, speech, and action literally influence what will be in the world.
Now that you know that, what are you waiting for? It’s just 6 more days to Rosh HaShanah!
(Based on the popular book, “The Art of T’shuva,” by Rabbi David Samson and Tzvi Fishman, Chapter 10.)
About the Author: Tzvi Fishman was awarded the Israel Ministry of Education Prize for Creativity and Jewish Culture for his novel "Tevye in the Promised Land." A wide selection of his books are available at Amazon. The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not represent the views of The Jewish Press
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