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.”
In upcoming blogs, we will learn more about the t’shuva of the Jewish People. The true nature of Israel’s soul is kedusha, or holiness. Our Sages tell us that Israel and Torah are one, sharing the same Divine source (Zohar, Vayikra 73A-B). While this holiness exists at the core of every Jewish soul, as its inheritance from our holy forefathers, it is the task of every Jew to make holiness the guiding force of his life. If a Jew ignores this aspect of his being, he simply will not feel it. He won’t even know it exists. If he does not develop this most intrinsic part of himself, he will come to identify with the norms of the culture around him. This is like the story of the boy who was raised by wolves in a forest — he thought that he too was a wolf. But this, Rabbi Kook assures us, is just a passing phase of our history which will one day lead us back to our roots.
“The abandonment and rebellion against the commandments of God is a terrible moral regression, which only seizes a man through his frightening immersion in the vulgarity of material life. It is possible that for a time, a generation, or a part of it, in one place or another, will become entangled in the thicket of moral blindness, to the point that it won’t sense at all the ethical descent inherent in the abandonment of the laws of God. But the Divine law does not lose its value because of this. T’shuva is determined to come and to be revealed. For the sickness of forgetting the Divine world cannot hold a permanent place in man’s nature. Like a polluted spring, it returns to its purity” (Orot HaT’shuva, 6:4).
Since t’shuva is inevitable, it behooves us to get on the proverbial boat. After all, who wants to lose out on a good thing? Once we know that t’shuva is the real goal in life, why waste time on pursuing illusory things like money, power, and fame? The reason is because they don’t seem so illusory. Today, the world is dominated by materialism. In truth, the great leaps forward in technology and science are all leading life toward greater capabilities, but all too often, people get caught up in the race to achieve, to succeed, to consume, to enjoy, and thus they lose sight of loftier, more spiritual goals. In a competitive, capitalistic culture, people tend to live for “me” and not for “us.” Things like morality in big business, and in our private lives, can easily be overlooked. While all over the globe, one can find seekers ardently trying to “return to their roots,” the t’shuva movement still does not attract as many people as Disneyland. But this, Rabbi Kook, insists is destined to change.
“The future will reveal the miracle of the power of t’shuva, and this revelation will capture the whole world with an incredible fervor, far greater than all of the wonders which the world is accustomed to see in all of the realms of life and existence. And this new revelation will captivate every heart with its wonder, and its spirit will influence all people. Then the world will rise to its true rebirth. Sin will cease, the spirit of impurity will be consumed as if burned, and evil will vanish like smoke” (Ibid, 5:7).
One day the world is going to get “turned on” to t’shuva. Come Saturday night, everyone is going to head for the yeshiva. T’shuva fever is going to be the final world craze. Everyone will want to do it. No other fad will come after it. Nothing will ever take its place.
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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