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August 29, 2015 / 14 Elul, 5775
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Madonna and Kabbalah Don’t Mix

The more you learn Torah, the more t’shuva you will be inspired to do — and the more t’shuva you do, the more Torah you are able to learn.
Torah scroll. (illustrative only)

Torah scroll. (illustrative only)
Photo Credit: Flash 90

Recently, the media has reported a boom in the learning of Kabbalah. Movie stars in Hollywood, stockbrokers on Wall Street, and students in college are flocking to Kabbalah clubs. While the efficacy of this learning is questionable so long as the would-be mystics remain ensconced in their usual lifestyles, the reason behind their spiritual searching is important to note – as Rabbi Kook writes:

“Therefore, in the last generations, in which the darkness of lust has so greatly increased, and the strength of the body has weakened, until it is impossible to stand firm against the material onslaught, it is imperative to illuminate the darkness with the mystical secrets of Torah, which know no boundaries, and which elevate (seekers) on wings of lofty freedom to the highest ascents, and which spread the transcendental joy of the beauty of holiness to depressed and spiritually darkened souls” (Orot HaKodesh, Pt. 1, p. 92).

When speaking about the secrets of Torah, Rabbi Kook is not suggesting that everyone learn the Kabbalistic formulas found in layman’s books on Kabbalah. He is not talking about learning the mystical meanings of the sefirot, nor about yichudim, partzufim, and the like. While all of these mat ters are required learning for those special Torah scholars who have reached states of extraordinary purity, we normal people are to focus on how these formulas appear in the world, in the life of the individual, and in the life of the Nation of Israel as it rises out of exile to Redemption. In effect, Rabbi Kook’s writings illuminate the deeper understandings of the Torah as they are manifesting themselves today, without employing the technical language of the Kabbalah, with all of its metaphors and codes.

We have mentioned that a person who desires to learn Torah without being willing to abandon a life of sin will not benefit by the Torah’s healing power. In the light of Rabbi Kook’s teachings, let’s follow a young stockbroker, Joe, to a class in Jewish mysticism, and see what is taking place in his soul.

First of all, though Joe might have been a top student at Princeton, his intellectual faculty has been distorted by sin. He may be a whiz in math, but his moral intelligence is dull. Because of the essential unity of existence, his spiritual darkness also darkens the light of the mind. On the most basic level, he does not know the difference between right and wrong. Sure, he knows that murder is evil, but other sins, including serious transgressions like slander and adultery, do not seem so bad. In many instances, moral wrongdoings do not seem like sins at all.

Rabbi Kook explains that the dulling of Joe’s intelligence is due, not only to his own sins, but to the polluted and errant values of the society to which he belongs. These distorted mores are caused by the general sins of the community. Though the word of God is always present, in Torah, in religion, in tradition, and in the exquisite orderings of heaven and earth, the immoral norms of society act as a barrier, blocking the Heavenly light from reaching us. Because Joe has become detached from Divine ideals as a result of his sins and the sins of society, he has become prey to the darker forces of life and to his weaker self. He lacks the moral fortitude to hold himself back from transgression. It is only through the purification of t’shuva that his will for goodness can be strengthened and his clarity of thought restored.

When Joe attends a class in Torah and confronts its sparkling light, if he is a true seeker who truly desires a higher enlightenment, he will sense his inner darkness and reach out for the cleansing deliverance that only t’shuva can bring. Though there be wrongdoings which he cannot address at the moment, whether through spiritual weakness or practical impediments, the Torah that he continues to learn will bring clarity to his thinking and fortify his will, providing him with the moral resolve which he lacks.

As he elevates himself to a higher perception of life, his sins will rise up before him to hold back his t’shuva. For instance, if he committed adultery with a married woman, he may ask himself how can he ever confess his wrongdoing and face up to his wife, and to the betrayed husband. If he fails to redress this transgression, it will stand in his way like a wall, blocking out the spiritual light for which he longs. To the extent that he puts his t’shuva into action, his thoughts will be straightened, his perceptions blessed, and his life will be filled with joy.

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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