Rabbi Kook explains that t’shuva comes about in two distinct formats, either suddenly, or in a gradual, slowly developing fashion. Both of these pathways to t’shuva are readily found in the baal t’shuva world. Some people will tell you how their lives suddenly changed overnight. Others describe their experience as a long, challenging process which unfolded over years. Many factors influence the way in which t’shuva appears.
The expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden describes man’s existential plight. In effect, the sum of world history is mankind’s journey to return to the Garden. Not only man, but the world itself wants to return to its original state. This yearning is one of the most powerful forces of Creation. Thus the world “roars like a mighty lioness” to return to its original, ideal closeness to God.
The Gemara teaches that t’shuva existed before the world was created. In a similar vein, Rabbi Kook writes that the spirit of t’shuva hovers over the world and gives it its basic form and the motivation to develop. It is t’shuva which gives the world its direction and its inner energy to constantly progress. The desire to refine the world and to embellish it with beauty and splendor all derive from the spirit of t’shuva.
While t’shuva is normally translated as penitence or repentance, the root of the Hebrew word t’shuva means “return.” T’shuva is a return to the source, to one’s roots, to one’s deepest inner self.
The month of Elul is known for being the time of the year most favorable for t’shuva - generally known as penitence or repentance. But t’shuva is much more than feeling bad over the transgressions which we have committed. Rabbi Kook teaches that t’shuva is the force that makes the world go around.
If a Jew is thrown into prison and he doesn’t have tefillin, then he can’t perform the mitzvah of putting on tefillin. But the mitzvah of tefillin isn’t cancelled because of this. The very first morning that he gets out of jail, he once again must perform the mitzvah of putting on tefillin
About a month ago, I received an email from a 16 year-old girl from Europe, saying that she was on the way to the airport to fly to Israel. She said that her mother read my blogs at The Jewish Press and hoped that maybe I could help her, not knowing where else to turn. She wants to finish high school in Israel, make aliyah, and go into the army. Her present high school is all gentile and Moslem and very anti-Semitic. Could I help her, she asked?
After finishing a meal in which we ate bread, we are to thank God for the food and for the Land which He has given us, as we say, “Blessed are Thou, O Lord, for the Land and the sustenance,” and even if a Jewish astronaut were to eat a pastrami sandwich on the moon, or on Mars, he would still thank God for the pastrami sandwich and the Land of Israel.
These days, it’s pretty hard to know who really is Jewish. Let’s take the example of the singles-bar scene in New York. A lot of times a Jewish guy will start talking to girl (call her Debbie) and during the conversation, he’ll ask if she’s Jewish, and she says, “Sure,” when she isn’t Jewish at all. So I have devised an almost foolproof test to determine if a person is really a Jew.
If Moshe were alive today, I’m certain he would prefer living in the Land of Israel rather than living in Brooklyn. What do you think?
We learn from Moshe that the true meaning of Haredi is someone whose fear and reverence of God so fills his being that he rushes to do every mitzvah as speedily and completely as he can. We also find this Haredi quality in Moshe’s great desire to live in the Land of Israel. Moshe wanted to make aliyah more than anything else. This is a sign of a true Haredi Jew – a towering love for the Land of Israel and a passionate desire to live there.
And so it was, every 9th of Av, the men would enter the mass grave for the night and another 15,000 would perish by the morning. The night of the living zombies. 15,000 men for 40 years. In the 40th year, the remaining men entered the mass grave but nothing happened. They remained there through the 15th of Av, when they realized that nothing was going to happen. The decree of the plague had ended! So they climbed joyously out of the grave. This was on Tu B’Av.
In our previous blog, we mentioned that Moshe Rabainu offered 515 prayers to Hashem, at the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, begging Hashem to let him enter the Land of Israel. Some people have trouble making up prayers if it isn’t written out for them in a siddur. So here’s a prayer I wrote for coming to the Land of Israel. Print it out and say it every day for the next 515 days. If it doesn’t work, crumple up the page, send it to me, and I’ll eat it.
Moshe Rabainu didn’t say any of the other 515 excuses you usually hear. Just the opposite. Moshe begged again and again and again, 515 prayers, to be granted the incomparable blessing of entering the Land. Today, there are people frummer than Moshe. The Land of Israel isn’t glatt enough for them. Or they don’t like the government. Or they’re worried about finding jobs, as if the hand of Hashem is too short to feed them. They prefer to rely on Uncle Sam instead.
Rabbi Meir Kahane published this in The Jewish Press 40 years ago. Some things just don’t seem to change: A religion which develops a split personality is a religion in danger. A faith whose adherents begin to merely pay lip service to its tenets is in the first stages of atrophy. When individuals create a dichotomy between what they believe and what they practice, it calls for serious re-evaluation. The dream of settling in Israel is a basic part of the Jewish faith. It is an obligation, but it is more than that; it is a dream.
Rabbi Kook explains that a weakening of the will is due in large measure to a lack of physical energy and strength. When a person’s willpower is weak, he can fall into many bad habits. As part of his overall mending, he must improve his physical health, as well as his moral and spiritual worlds.
On Tisha B’Av, we mourn over the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash, over the destruction of Jerusalem, and over being exiled from our Land. Unfortunately, because of the great length and darkness of the exile, there is a totally mistaken and distorted understanding of what exile is. Instead of experiencing it as a terrible punishment, it is all too often experienced as fun.
The roots for the Destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem were planted long before the Destruction itself, on the night the Spies in the Wilderness returned from their ill-fated mission and convinced the Jewish People not to journey on to live in the Promised Land. That night was the 9th of Av. Their rejection of the Land of Israel was the rotten foundation which brought about our later National Destruction as an independent Nation in our own Land.
No, I’m not talking about those famed Brooklyn Bums, I’m speaking about the Aliyah Dodgers, the Diaspora Giants, the Ultra-Orthodox Williamsburg White Sox, the Assimilated Cardinals, and the OU Washington Nationals.
When I look at the pictures of Brooklyn and Toronto, and Boca and Beverly Hills, I pray with all my heart that God open their eyes, and give them a heart of flesh to feel the horror of their plight, living in strange impure lands, living make-believe identities, as if they are Americans and Frenchmen and Australians and Germans, when they are really the descendents of Israelites displaced from their Homeland.