Precisely because t’shuva is the most exciting sensation in the world, a person must be careful to control the great powers it unleashes. The turned-on t’shuva “junkie” who wakes up in the morning looking to shoot holiness into his veins is faced with a problem. He wants too much, too fast. If in his frustration, he blames his body and its lusts, he can start to wage war on himself. He tries to uproot all of his feelings and passions, including healthy drives like eating and sleeping. But the body resists. It still wants to eat, to sleep, to have normal, marital relations. As long as a person continues to breathe, the monster called the body will not go away.
When this aggressive strategy fails, the person can fall into despair. His longing to fly straight up to heaven has been thwarted. Instead of feeling rejected, however, he should realize that the body and soul need to rise up the spiritual ladder together. Patience is needed. With all of his spiritual and physical baggage, he sets out on the trip. Little by little, he will prod the beast, poke here and there, steering it, training it, making it obey his commands.
A person comes to learn that as materialistic as one’s body can be, it also has rights. Just as it is forbidden to hurt another person, it is forbidden to hurt oneself. Just as one has to be kind to others, one has to be kind to oneself. A baal t’shuva who accepts upon himself extra stringencies has to take counsel with himself to know when the border has been crossed.
For instance, a person may feel that fasting can help him weaken his material lusts. Not wanting to exhaust himself completely, he may decide that instead of fasting a whole day, it is healthier to fast during the day, but to eat at night. In this manner, a person may learn to rule over his lusts without draining his body and willpower completely. If this regimen also proves too punishing, then the person must have compassion on himself and try to find another strategy to cleanse himself of his lusts.
The main thing is not to despair. As long as a person’s will remains firm, God will help him on his way. He must come to recognize that the ultimate solution to his problems does not rest with himself, for a person by himself cannot correct all of his failings. He has to know that in the end, the charity of God, His mercy and lofty salvation will rescue him from his darkness. God will answer his yearnings and bring him to the higher deliverance for which he so longs.
Rabbi Kook adds one final point which is important to stress. Many people reject the idea of t’shuva because they believe that they will have to give up their personalities, talents, and uniqueness in order to conform to a rigid religious standard. Rabbi Kook says that just the opposite is needed. The baal t’shuva must follow his own special path, not someone else’s. Without fear, he must expand his unique intellectual and imaginative talents in the freedom of his soul, in line with his own individuality. T’shuva does not restrict life — it enhances it.
The musician need not give up his music; the writer need not abandon his pen; the singer need not refrain from singing; the businessman need not give up his business. The opposite is true. The baal t’shuva must use his talents, without hesitation or fear, in serving God, in declaring His praises, in bringing the joy and knowledge of God to the world. Then his t’shuva will be complete. Not only in mending his deeds and improving his ways, but by sanctifying his unique individuality and talents to God, he helps bring the whole world to completion.
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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