There is an old aphorism which claims that two things in life are certain: death and taxes. To this, Rabbi Kook would add a third certainty — t’shuva.
Before we begin to explore the multi- faceted world of t’shuva, as it applies to the individual and to existence as a whole, it is important to know that the return to the Source is inevitable. Just as the body has a built-in mechanism for self-healing, so does mankind. T’shuva is promised, and t’shuva will come. The world will return to its Maker.
“The world must come to a state of complete t’shuva. The world is not static; rather it progresses and develops, and the true, complete development must inevitably bring absolute health, both physical and spiritual, and this will bring the light of the life of t’shuva with it” (Orot Ha’Tshuva, 5:3).
Webster’s Dictionary defines determinism as: “a doctrine which postulates that acts of the will, occurrences in nature, or social or psychological phenomena are determined by antecedent causes.” In Rabbi Kook’s era, the theory of determinism was the talk of the town. Darwin theorized that the world was deterministically guided by a course of evolution. Marx declared that communism was deterministic in nature. The Americans claimed that capitalism, not communism, was destined to conquer the world. Zionists said that the Jewish people were deterministically driven to have their own state. Freud insisted that man was deterministically motivated by the events of his past.
As if observing the world from the top of a mountain peak, Rabbi Kook wrote that behind all of these social, political, and scientific movements was the movement of movements, the determinism of determinisms — t’shuva. At the root of them all, the inner force of t’shuva was constantly pushing the world forward to make it a better place. When the t’shuva force hits a political thinker like Marx, the “Communist Manifesto” is born. When it hits Herzl, it results in a book, “The Jewish State.” When it hits a deep, spiritual thinker like Rabbi Kook, it becomes “Orot HaT’shuva.” T’shuva can take many forms, depending on the person, and the extent to which he has purified himself. However, one thing is common to all, whether it be the drive to build a utopian society; to abolish poverty and disease; to prevent aging and death; to produce healthier foods; to ban nuclear weapons; to protect the environment; and to guarantee equal rights for all minority groups — all of these things are driven by the phenomenon of t’shuva.
The comforting words of Rabbi Kook as he passed by the Valley of Hinom in Jerusalem (see yesterday’s blog) come to assure us that the world is indeed becoming a better place. After all, people no longer sacrifice their children to the gods. There is a deterministic trend in the world toward improvement and progress. While parts of mankind are still gripped by primitive superstitions and customs, world civilization has come a long way since the days of Ghengis Khan. The Dark Ages gave way to the Renaissance with its focus on art and literature. With the Age of Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution, mankind took another leap forward. Once man lived in fear of forces he could not control, now he felt that his intelligence and reason could lead him to master the world. In modern times, the Fall of the Bastille and the Age of Emancipation, have brought great benefit to mankind. Generally, the world is a healthier place than it was just a few decades ago. This world development is all a part of t’shuva.
One might argue that while the world constantly develops in cultural and material spheres, spiritual t’shuva is destined to remain a dream. Individuals, yes, there are always a few oddballs that latch onto religion, but the world? “In G-d we trust” may be written on the dollar, but the dollar is worshipped far more. Not only that, violence and murder are rampant all over the world. And in the matter of sexual purity, man today is not much more elevated than the average Viking of the past. Nonetheless, Rabbi Kook has hope.
“T’shuva is ever-present in the heart. Even at the moment of transgression itself, t’shuva is hidden in the soul, and it sends out its rays which afterward are revealed when remorse calls out for t’shuva. In the depths of life, t’shuva exists, since t’shuva preceded the world, and before sin occurred, the remedy of t’shuva had already been prepared. Therefore, nothing is more certain in the world than t’shuva, and in the end, everything will return to its perfected state” (Ibid, 6:2).
Rabbi Kook continues by saying that the certainty of t’shuva is all the more guaranteed regarding the nation of Israel, whose t’shuva is promised, both in the Torah and in the words of our Prophets. Israel stands waiting to return to its original holy yearning for God, to express in life the true nature of its soul, in every facet of its nationhood and being, “in spite of all the iron curtains which are blocking the manifestation of this mighty inner essence.”