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Goodbye World, I’m Off to the Mountains!

Rabbi Kook’s advice is to set out correcting the transgressions of the past which are within the person’s reach to correct. This will set into motion a snowball of t’shuva whose inner force will lead him to correct matters more and more difficult, until he succeeds in redressing all wrongs.
The Mountains

Thus, it is not the Torah which is a barrier to t’shuva, but rather the false ideas which people have about spirituality. Spirituality is not something intended for monasteries and isolated mountain peaks, but for everyday life in society, in the supermarket, in the bank, in the courtroom, and in the house. The t’shuva ideal is not to turn into a monk. One isn’t to say, because I am influenced by people, I will avoid them; because I am influenced by food, I will not eat; because I am influenced by women, I will be celibate. One isn’t to reject life, but to uplift it. Our task is to hallow even the nitty-gritty details of day-to-day existence. It is easy to turn ones back on life, to walk out the door, to stick out your tongue at your past and say, “Goodbye world, I’m headed off for the mountains!” The higher t’shuva is down-to-earth t’shuva; deed by deed, person by person, food by food. T’shuva comes to sanctify life, not to abandon it to despair.

Even if a person feels that transgressions from his past are blocking his will to repent, Rabbi Kook says the show must go on — t’shuva must go forward. T’shuva must never stop. T’shuva has no end. Life must be filled with t’shuva.

Occasionally, the thought of mending each and every sin is just too overwhelming for a person to deal with. Who has the energy? Who has the strength? Who can muster the humility it takes to apologize to everyone he has slighted? The magnitude of the endeavor before him can even lead a person to say, why bother, t’shuva won’t help.

Let no weakness stand in the way. T’shuva must continue. It must overcome all obstacles. Even if there are matters which seem impossible to correct, let a man always find joy in every bit of t’shuva that comes to his grasp. The merit of fixing the things that he can will stand by him, helping him to overcome more difficult barriers. Finally, Rabbi Kook assures us, with God’s help, he will be able to mend all that needs to be mended.

Millions of people all over the world are searching for a greater connection to G-d. What makes finding Him so difficult? Why is it so hard to fathom the depths of Divinity? Rabbi Kook explains that the difficulties are due to people’s sins and unrefined traits, which weaken a person’s will for perfection and goodness.

 “In order to remove every barrier between the general Divine good and the individual who yearns for it, it is necessary to separate oneself from every moral blemish, in the widest sense, including the cleansing of all of one’s character traits and the purifying of intellectual endeavors, for it is through these that God’s light appears in the world….” (Ibid, 13:2).

Bad character attributes, whether they be jealousy, anger, cynicism, pride, stinginess, laziness, and the like, together with whatever sins a person might have, all block his connection to God. They darken the intellect with spiritual pollution, and clog the channels of holiness which connect this world with the Divine. If a person feels that a closeness to God is eluding him, though he try and try to please Him, self-introspection is needed to discover what negative traits and sins are preventing further progress.

In the initial phase of t’shuva, we focus our microscopes on our general behavior, without turning up the light. We have to deal with the glaring wrongdoings first, before we can begin to see which fine tunings are still in need of adjustment. Then, as we become more sensitive to the holy and spiritual, we have to do t’shuva on our original t’shuva. The more we purify ourselves, the clearer our moral and spiritual vision becomes, and we discover that there is still plenty more t’shuva to do.

Sometimes, in a person’s longing to cleanse himself completely, he may decide that since his sins stem from his material yearnings, he will wage war on his physical life and become an ascetic who barely eats. This person’s intentions are certainly praiseworthy. His passionate desire for inspiration and connection to God is noble, but in letting his longings push him to starve his body, he is in fact sinning against himself.

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 author's opinion does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Jewish Press.

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Tzvi Fishman, author of the Jewish Press blog Felafel on Rye and author of more than a dozen books.
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