Modern western culture encourages man to channel his will toward the more negative aspects of life. Society’s passions and pulls are so powerful that a person soon loses sight of what’s good, and begins to glorify and worship the bad. The push toward success is so great, everything becomes permissible in the fight to achieve it. Vice becomes an acceptable norm. The will for goodness, man’s most basic desire, is shackled in sin. Only the power of t’shuva can save it.
Rabbi Kook writes:
The constant focus of a person’s thoughts on t’shuva builds a person’s character on a noble foundation. He constantly fills himself with a sensitive spirit, which places him on the spiritual foundation of life and existence.
When t’shuva constantly fills the heart, it reinforces in the person the great value of a spiritual life, and reinforces in him the great foundation that a good will is everything. All of the talents in the world are merely to implement the person’s will to do good, which becomes stamped into his being through the light of constant t’shuva. A great influx of God’s spirit falls constantly over him, and a holy will increases in him, far surpassing the aspirations of ordinary men. He comes to recognize the positive value of true success — the will for goodness, which is solely dependent on the person himself, and not on any external condition (Orot HaT’shuva, 9:1).
Thus it is t’shuva which strengthens a person’s longing for goodness. It is t’shuva which gives him the spiritual light to break free from the darkness of sin. It is t’shuva which revitalizes and restores his good will. When the spiritual world opens before him, he realizes that talents are not ends in themselves, but the means in serving God. One realizes that the goal is not just to be a good singer, but to sing the praises of God. The goal is not just to be a good writer, but to use one’s talent as a writer to bring people closer to their Creator. The greatness of one’s talent is not the measure of success, but rather the direction it takes. Nor is public renown always the yardstick. Rabbi Aryeh Levin, the “Tzaddik of Jerusalem,” lived a life of one good deed after another, but outside of Israel, he was hardly known at all. Who in God’s eyes do you think was a greater success, Rabbi Aryeh Levin or Elvis Presley, who was known all over the world? The answer is obvious when we judge our lives by Jewish standards, and not by the standards of western culture.
Rabbi Kook teaches that by attaching oneself to God’s will for the world, a person brings his life into harmony with the positive flow of existence. In the process, a person’s own willpower is fantastically strengthened, for he has plugged himself into the Source of all sources, the Power of all powers, Will of all wills, King of all kings. People who attain this level possess a superhuman energy and drive. Our forefather, Yaakov, went years with almost no sleep. King David would sleep only a tiny portion of the night. Tzaddikim like Rabbi Aryeh Levin, Rabbi Kook, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, and the Rebbe of Chabad, were known to fill up all of their days, their evenings, and their nights with endless study, teaching, meetings, prayer and good deeds. The person who is strengthened by a holy will, and an influx of God’s spirit, comes to know that the zenith of success is in channeling one’s will toward goodness, and that this, in and of itself, is the highest attainment in life, independent of his status in society, and other external factors such as honor and fame.
“This success is the greatest happiness, greater than all other treasures. Only this success brings joy to the whole world and all of existence. For a good will which is always active in the soul transforms all of life toward goodness” (Ibid).
Thus we learn that the striving to be a good person is the key to success and true happiness — to a happiness centered in God. A happiness which a man acquires, not only in this world, but also in the World to Come, where money, and honor, and fame don’t really matter at all. As the expression goes — you can’t take it with you.