Before continuing with Rabbi Kook’s writings on T’shuva, I want to share an email which I received before Yom Kippur. It’s always nice to receive a kind word, even for an old alligator-skinned blogger like me:
Shalom, Reb Tzvi,
I am a semicha student at Yeshiva University, and I just read your sefer on teshuvah in Rav Kook’s thought and I wanted to thank you for it. I was very much inspired by your book. I do not study that much of Rav Kook’s writings (unfortunately), but I was preparing to give a shiur on Orot Hateshuvah when I came across your commentary, ‘The Art of T’shuva.’
What began as an intellectual exercise in preparing a shiur soon changed into a deeply spiritual experience as I began to understand some of what Rav Kook is trying to teach us. I really feel that your book has made a big difference in my emotional experience of the yamim noraim and aseret yemei teshuvah this year. Thanks again for the wonderful sefer.
And now, leading up to the holiday of Sukkot, we’ll wrap up our condensed look at Rabbi Kook’s teachings on t’shuva with a few blogs on two of the holidays most important themes – Eretz Yisrael and Torah.
We have learned that t’shuva encompasses far more than personal repentance. Its ever-streaming waves affect the world in its entirety, lifting it toward perfection. Furthermore, we have learned that it is the Nation of Israel who will lead the world to Redemption, marching in front of the parade of nations with its shofars blaring away.
This is all well and good. But what will bring the Jewish People to t’shuva? What will awaken the Divine voice in its soul? What causes the scattered, exiled Jewish Nation to return, as we beseech God in our prayers, to the glorious days of our past?
Rabbi Kook writes that the rebirth of the Jewish Nation in Eretz Yisrael is the foundation for the ultimate t’shuva, both for the nation of Israel, and for the whole world.
To understand this concept fully, one must understand the incomparable holiness of Eretz Yisrael and its importance to the Nation of Israel. While it is beyond the scope of this blog to explore this subject in depth, we will mention a few of the things which point to the unique connection between the Jewish People and their Land.
The Jewish People possess true national vitality only in the Land of Israel. Outside of the Land, Jews can excel as individuals in all fields of endeavor; there can be great Torah scholars, but the light of God cannot appear in a national format. Only in the Land of Israel can the Jews be a KINGDOM of priests and a holy NATION. The Zohar emphasizes that the Jews can be a Nation only inIsrael, and not outside of it, where we are compared to dry and scattered bones21-22). Prophecies of Redemption all involve the return of the Jewish people to the Land of Israeland the restoration of Jewish sovereignty over the Land. The Jewish People’s unique prophetic talent is dependent on being in theLandofIsrael. The Temple can only be rebuilt on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, and the full revelation of God’s Presence is exclusive to Eretz Yisrael, as the prophet teaches, “For Torah will go forth from Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (Yisheyahu, 2:3).
In a letter, Rabbi Kook writes:
The source of the moral baseness, which continues to darken the world, stems from the lack of recognition regarding the value and wisdom of theLandofIsrael. Thus the sin of the Spies, who spoke derogatorily about the pleasant Land, remains uncorrected. To rectify this, the Land’s praise, splendor, holiness, and honor must be declared to the world (Letters, Vol.1, pgs 112-113).
While Rabbi Kook emphasizes that the t’shuva of the Jewish People and a return to the Torah go hand-in-hand, he indicates that a preliminary stage of national revival will bring this spiritual awakening to pass. First, the Jewish people must return toZionto rebuild their homeland. Once the physical body that houses the Nation is built, then the revitalized Jewish soul will yearn for spiritual completion as well, and our people will flock back to the Torah. This may take several generations, but this national t’shuva is destined to come to pass.
We shall try to explain this in a simple manner. We have mentioned that the concept of t’shuva means to return. Suppose a man is expelled from his house by thieves. The wrongdoing will only be corrected when the owner returns to repossess his house.
For the world to reach perfection, God decreed that the Jewish People must live a life of Torah inIsrael. God’s first commandment to Abraham is to go to the Land of Israel in order to serve God in the most complete way. Afterwards, God commands Moshe to bring the Jews out from Egypt to Eretz Yisrael. Over and over, the Torah repeats that the Jewish People are to live their unique Torah life inIsrael. When the holy Jewish Nation lives a holy life of Torah in theHoly Land, the vessel is formed to bring the light of God to the world. The Nation of Israel becomes an international beacon, an example and light to all of the nations in the world (Yisheyahu, 42:6).
At the time of theSecondTemple, when we failed to uphold the high moral standard demanded of us by the Torah, we were punished and exiled from the Land. God’s worldly vessel was shattered.Israelwas conquered,Jerusalemwas razed, the Land was laid waste. God’s chosen people were scattered and debased. Like the Jews, God’s Presence went into exile. His light in the world became hidden. In effect, mankind was cut off from God. Thus to rectify this tragedy and return the world to God, the Jewish People must return to their previous stature, including a national life in Israel, the only place in the world where the Torah can be observed in all of its wholeness because of the many commandments unique to the Land.
On a deeper level, the Zohar teaches that the Nation of Israel, Torah, and God are one (Zohar, Vayikra 73A). Each Jew has a bit of the Shechinah, or the Presence of God, within him. When a Jew returns to theLandofIsrael, he is, in effect, bringing God back with him (See Rashi, Devarim, 30:3). This is the Kabbalistic concept of “raising up the buried sparks of holiness from the klipot.” Since the soul of a Jew is infused with the light of the Shechinah, when the Jewish People return en masse toIsrael, the light of God in the world returns with them. It is precisely this light that the nations of the world fight against us to suppress.
A visual illustration will help us envision what Rabbi Kook is seeing when he looks at the awakened Zionist movement. It is a global vision, spanning all human history. To raise ourselves to a more encompassing perspective, imagine being in a satellite orbiting the earth. Down below, scattered all over the globe, are tiny, little lights. These lights are the Jews, scattered all over the world. Slowly, lights begin to travel to a certain point on the globe — theLandofIsrael. More and more lights begin to congregate there. From all over the world, the scattered lights start to unite inIsrael. Lights that do not make the journey begin to flicker and disappear. Soon, a great beacon of light is formed inIsrael, sending out rays of light to all of the world. These rays are the lights of t’shuva, summoning mankind back to God.
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." For the past several years, he has written a popular and controversial blog at Arutz 7. 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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