The Torah represents the Divine good, as expressed in a code of behavior on earth. One can readily understand that a person gets closer to God by doing what He ordains. When a man attaches his will to God’s, his will is uplifted toward a higher ideal. He doesn’t merely want to make a good living, come home, open a beer, and watch TV. His life is more idealistically oriented. He tends to think less of himself and he longs to help everyone he can.
In a similar light, sin acts as a barrier between man and his Maker. When a person defies God’s will, he distances himself from God. He falls out of harmony with existence, because all of existence is an expression of God’s will. The sun rises every day just as God has decreed. Rains fall, flowers grow, birds chirp, all in harmony with God’s will. Only man has the freedom to turn his will against God.
If a person’s will to do good slips off the right path, he quickly comes to transgress. Rabbi Kook explains that every sin weakens the will to do good. With a weakened moral desire, a man can fall into the clutches of sin completely.
This detachment from God can only be cured by t’shuva. It is through t’shuva that man recognizes the value of goodness. This recognition strengthens the will to do good. The more a person learns about the goodness of God, and the more he learns Torah, the more he wants to come closer to God.
Concurrently, when he prays to come closer to God, his will for goodness is fortified. Standing before his Maker in prayer, he nullifies his will before God’s will. Attached once again to the Divine “superwill” for the world, he finds the inner resources and power to turn his evil inclination toward the good. In this manner, his sins are transformed into merits. The constant spiritual battle between the evil inclination and the good inclination is a part of the inner fabric of life. As the book “Mesillat Yesharim” makes clear, all of this world is a testing ground. Will a man follow his will to do good, or will he be led astray after sin? The hero, the winner, is the man who clings to God in all of his doings. This is real success. As the Ramchal writes:
The Holy One Blessed Be He has put man in a place where the factors which draw him further from the Blessed One are many. These are the earthy desires which, if he is pulled after them, cause him to be drawn further from and to depart from the true good. It is seen, then, that man is veritably placed in the midst of a raging battle…. If he is valorous, and victorious on all sides, he will be the whole man, who will succeed in uniting with his Creator, and he will leave the corridor to enter the palace, to glow in the light of life. To the extent that he has subdued his evil inclination and his desires, and withdrawn from those factors which draw him further from the good, and exerted himself to become united with it, to that extent he will attain and rejoice in the light of life.
If you look more deeply into the matter, you will see that the world was created for man’s use. In truth, man is the center of a great balance. For if he is pulled after the world and is drawn further from his Creator, he is damaged, and he damages the world with him. And if he rules over himself and unites himself with his Creator, using the world only to aid him in the service of God, then he is uplifted and the world is uplifted with him (“Mesillat Yesharim,” Ch.1).
Success, we see, is achieved in life when one channels his will towards goodness. What makes this simple teaching so startling? Precisely because it stands in conflict with all of modern western culture. Today, who are the “successful people”? The movie stars and rock stars, the millionaires, the famous artists, the political leaders, the sports heroes. These are society’s champions. These are the role models whom young people emulate. They are considered successful because they have successfully pursued and attained prestige, power, money, and fame — values which Judaism places at the negative side of the scale of character traits. Our Sages teach that we should flee from honor and pride. Our prophets tell us that it is not the powerful and egotistical who shall inherit the earth, but the humble and righteous. The Midrash teaches that someone who seeks fame will lose it, and that the pursuit of wealth brings misery in its wake. In other words, chances are that the faces we see on the cover of People Magazine are not the faces which we are going to see in Heaven in the World to Come.