Today, we are going to examine the relationship between Torah and T’shuva. First, we must understand that Torah is not external, factual knowledge like the knowledge of science, mathematics, or linguistics. Torah is an inwardly-directed knowledge which has the power to influence and change a person, to refine a person’s sensitivities and to connect him to the holy, spiritual foundations of life.
The study of Torah is not a quantitative amassing of information and theories like other knowledges. It is a qualitative experience demanding both moral and intellectual involvement, and a desire to make Torah ideals an essential part of one’s character. When a person learns Torah and discovers the exalted harmony and goodness of Creation, his will is affected, stimulating a yearning for God. Because his will for goodness is enhanced, his desire for t’shuva is strengthened as well.
The Talmud teaches that God created the evil inclination and the Torah as its cure (Kiddushin 30B). Rabbi Kook explains this as meaning that a person’s will cannot be perfected except through the purifying influence of the Torah. The Torah strengthens the will and directs it towards holiness and goodness.
The more an individual learns Torah, especially the deeper wisdom of Torah, the more knowledgeable he becomes about his true spiritual nature and about the nature of his will. He comes to recognize that the entire world is Divinely inspired to attain a purer connection to God. This higher contemplation brings him to a higher level of t’shuva. Rabbi Kook writes:
“True, complete t’shuva demands lofty horizons of perception, in order to be raised to the resplendent world which abounds in holiness and truth. This can only be done by being immersed in the secrets of life found in Divine wisdom and the depths of the Torah. This necessitates physical cleansing and the purification of one’s traits as aids, so that the clouds of lust will not darken the intellect’s clarity. But the study of Torah must precede everything else, especially the study of the higher, supernal Torah, for it alone can shatter all of the iron barriers which separate the individual and the Nation from God” (Orot HaT’shuva, 10:1).
T’shuva and Torah go hand-in-hand. Like bees and honey, you can’t have one without the other. The more a person studies Torah, the more inspired he is to do t’shuva. Similarly, to the extent that a person purifies himself through t’shuva, his study of Torah is blessed and made more clear.
A person who is satisfied with a routine performance of the Torah’s commandments can get by with a minimum of t’shuva, but to enter into the deep, secret wellsprings of Torah, a person must be pure of all unholy influences. To reach this state of cleanliness, a great deal of t’shuva is required. The depth of a person’s t’shuva enables him to understand greater degrees of Torah, for the ability to understand Torah does not solely depend on one’s intellectual skills in clinically analyzing a passage of Talmud — the essence of Torah is when the person has internalized its profound moral concepts into his being, so much so that he yearns for them with all of his might. Only when a person has reached this level, when his will is so refined that it longs only for goodness, can he properly understand the deep secrets of Torah.
For this reason, people who profess to learn Kabbalah without doing t’shuva are not really learning at all. They study the formulas of mysticism, but the import of the teachings does not enter their hearts, for God only unravels the secrets of Torah to one who has prepared his soul to receive them. Rabbi Kook writes:
“It is obvious that it is impossible to learn the secrets of Torah without t’shuva. For in these great matters, the will and the intellect are united. When one understands these subjects with a mighty will for the good, one yearns for them and devises many general and specific strategies to obtain them. However, when sins form a barrier, the will is damaged, and since one cannot rise to the highest, innermost level of the will…wisdom cannot grow in him, and the channels of understanding the secrets of Torah are blocked” (Ibid, 10:8).
Simply put, if you want to understand the inner workings of existence, you have to clean up your act. Just like you cannot purify yourself in a ritual bath while holding a dead mouse in your hand, you cannot learn the secrets of Torah while you are living in sin.