As we continue on the t’shuva train toward Yom Kippur, I would like to take this opportunity to bless the readers of the Jewish Press, and my friends the world over, with a year of health, happiness, and success.
While the greatest success a Jew can achieve is to live a Torah life in the Land of Israel, success comes in many shapes and sizes. To make sure that your new year will be blessed with success, here’s a wonderful teaching of Rabbi Kook, condensed from our commentary, “The Art of T’shuva,” which has the power to make everyone a winner.
It is no secret that western society is success oriented. Everyone wants to be a success, whether it be a successful basketball player, a successful lawyer, a successful doctor, a successful housewife… the list goes on and on. Success is championed as one of life’s greatest values. Everyone loves success stories. Everyone envies successful people. From the earliest ages, children are taught to admire success. Parents push their kids to be successful. The drive to succeed is reinforced in schools. The competition is fierce to get into top colleges, because they are seen as the doors to success. Working your way up the ladder of success is the mainstay of capitalism. Accordingly, bookstores are filled with dozens of guides on how to succeed.
Accordingly, the poor soul who does not succeed is a loser. In western society, if you are not a success, you are probably very unhappy. Your self-image is bound to be low. The successful people are the winners, and you are nothing more than a bum.
Rabbi Kook has good news. If you are a loser, all is not lost. You too can be a winner. You too can succeed. How? Through t’shuva.
That’s right. The key to success is t’shuva. For when life is looked at through spiritual glasses, for what it really is, the most important thing is neither money, nor honor, nor power, nor fame. The most important thing is pursuing a life of goodness. True success lies in simply striving to be good. For real achievement is measured by what is important to God, not by what society flaunts. In God’s eyes, a woman can be successful without looking like Barbie. A man can be a success without having five or six credit cards and a six-figure salary. The real man, the real success, is the baal t’shuva, the man of Torah.
Rabbi Kook discusses this startling idea in his writings on ratzon, רצון. The Hebrew word ratzon is usually translated as will, or willpower, but the word has a deep connotation which requires some further explanation. He writes:
The will which is forged by t’shuva is the will which is imbedded in the depths of existence, and not the lesser will that concerns itself with the superficial and external facets of life. This (deeper) will is the most fundamental force in the foundation of life, and this is the genuine character of the soul (Orot HaT’shuva, 9:1. See the “Art of T’shuva,” Ch.12).
This fundamental force is the desire to get closer to God. This is the deepest expression of the will. For instance, the desire to eat ice cream is a relatively superficial desire, an offshoot of the desire to eat. On a deeper level, the desire to eat is an expression of the will to survive. While not every man has a desire to eat ice cream, every man does have a will to survive. This will, the will to live, is a deeper phase of ratzon, and something less dependent upon a man’s free choice. This can be seen in an old, dying person. Though racked with sufferings, he still clutches onto life with his last ounce of strength. Even if he lapses into a coma, the will to live in his soul continues to function.
On an even deeper level, buried in the will to live is man’s deepest, most basic will — the will to get close to God. The will to be connected to God finds expression in the will to do good and in the longing for goodness. Just as G-d is good, we should be good. Just as God is giving, we should be giving. Man is the only creature who possesses a free will. Our task is to align our will with the will of our Creator. For the Jewish people, living a life of goodness means living a life filled with Torah, which is God’s will for the Jews. This is our true happiness, as it says, “The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart” (Tehillim, 19:9).