As we saw in a previous blog, the t’shuva of the Nation and the Land of Israel go hand in hand. Phase two is the Nation’s return to the Torah.
During the reign of King Solomon, the Nation of Israel was at its prime. We lived in peace in our own homeland. A Jewish government ruled over the country from the majestic city of Jerusalem. All of the people gathered for the Festivals at the Temple three times a year. Jewish law went forth from the Sanhedrin. Prophets communicated the word of the Lord to the Nation and the world. A powerful Jewish army guarded the country’s borders. Torah was studied in great academies of learning. Hebrew was spoken on the street. The leaders of foreign nations flocked to Jerusalem to pay tribute to the Jews.
When Israel was exiled, however, everything was lost. The country was conquered by enemies. Jerusalem was razed, the Temple destroyed. Prophecy ceased. Jews wandered from country to country. They began speaking strange languages. Instead of being honored by the gentiles, the Jews were disgraced. They became an oppressed minority in alien lands. And while Jews continued to learn Torah throughout their exile, its light was considerably waned (Chagiga 4B). In the face of persecution and assimilation, Judaism lost its once great stature.
As we mentioned in our previous blog, with the commencement of the Zionist movement, the Jewish people began to return to what had been lost. Jews began to return to their homeland. They began to return to their very own Hebrew language. A Jewish government returned to Jerusalem. The city was rebuilt. Once again, Jews were sovereign in their homeland. Jewish soldiers once again guarded its borders. Once again, foreign rulers came to pay tribute to the leaders of Israel. Out from the humiliation of exile, the Nation was resurrected to life. The physical, national body of Israel’s statehood was restored with a newfound Jewish valor and strength. But without the Temple, without the Sanhedrin and prophecy, without the pilgrimages to Jerusalem three times a year, and without a national dedication to Torah, the return is still incomplete. Nonetheless, Rabbi Kook assures us, within the yearning to return to the Land is a deeper, hidden yearning to return to the Torah as well.
Within the inner heart, in its pure and holy chambers, the Israeli flame increases, demanding the strong, brave, constant connection of life to all of the mitzvot of God…. And in the hearts of all the empty ones, and in the hearts of all of the sinners of Israel, the fire burns and blazes in the most inward depths, and in the Nation in its entirety, all of the desire for freedom, and all of the yearning for life, for the community and for the individual, all of the hope for Redemption, only from the source of this inner spring of life do they flow in order to live Israeli life in its fullest, without contradiction or limitation (Orot, Eretz Yisrael, 8).
Under the secular-looking Zionist State is a flaming, raging, engulfing fireball of t’shuva. The Jewish soul is yearning for religion. Like a man dying of thirst in the desert, the voice of the Nation cries out, “Torah, Torah, Torah.” Ironically, it is precisely the spiritual wilderness which brings the great thirst. Rabbi Kook writes:
T’shuva will come (to the Jewish Nation) in several directions. One of the causes will be the deep sorrow felt over the humiliation inflicted upon the great spiritual treasure which our forefathers bequeathed to us, and which possesses immeasurable power and glory (Orot HaT’shuva, 4:9).
Israel’s great spiritual treasure is the Torah, the commandments, the holidays, Jewish customs, traditions, prayer, and the vast sea of Talmudic learning.
This mighty spirit spans over all generations. Its source is the most exalted Divine Source of life. When one looks to it, one finds everything, all beauty and splendor (Ibid).
Rebbe Nachman of Breslov told a story about a poor man from a poor village who was told in a dream to seek out a treasure buried under a certain bridge in a faraway town. The poor man made the long journey and located the bridge. As he was searching around, a policeman accosted him and demanded to know what he was doing. When the poor man explained, the policeman confided that he too had had a similar foolish dream, in which a treasure was to be found in a certain faraway village under the shack of a poor man. When the policeman cited the poor man’s name and village, the poor man realized that the treasure was buried under his very own house! He had to make the long journey to the bridge to discover the secret. Sure enough, when the poor man hurried back home, he uncovered the treasure under the floor of his storeroom.
In much the same manner, the Jewish people have lost sight of the treasure of their ancestral past. Seduced by the gentile cultures around us, we have very often ignored our own pure, holy spring, for pools of polluted water.
This cultural assimilation has occurred throughout our dispersion. Even in the Holy Land, the symbols, influences, and values of Western society abound. The immigrants returning to Israel brought back, not only their pure Jewish souls, but also a lot of foreign baggage. Socialism, communism, atheism, capitalism, bohemianism, materialism, and secularism are only some of the travel stickers we have collected along our journey. One day, Rabbi Kook assures us, a feeling of shame will cause us to return to our original love, the Torah.
The darkness of heresy caused our people to detach themselves from this rich meadow and to stumble in foreign pastures which have absolutely no life nor vitalizing substance for us. The pain of this great anguish will burst awesomely forth, clearing the way for sensibility and reason to know what positive elements might be retrieved from all the false paths which led us astray. The soul’s inner longing for holiness will be freed. It will break out of its prison, and with a powerful thirst, every awakened spirit will begin to drink deeply from the original, exalted life source (Orot HaT’shuva, 4:9).
With a return to the Torah, the Jewish people erase all of the foreign concepts and values which have tainted Jewish identity and culture during our long exile in gentile lands, and replace them with a library of holy Torah tapes and texts. Rather than being divided between two separate worlds, a Jew at home and a German or Frenchman on the street, we return to our unique Jewish wholeness. We come to hear clearly the voice of our souls calling us back to our God. Embracing our holiness, we long for a life of Torah, a life of moral purity, a life cleansed from sin. With each Torah verse that we learn, with each Mishna, with each page of Gemara, we give revitalizing Jewish nourishment to our long-neglected souls.
To accomplish such a vast, national t’shuva, Rabbi Kook writes that a broad system of popular Torah education is needed. After having abandoned our unique Jewish treasure for so many years, we have a lot of relearning to do. In fact, many Jews returning to Judaism have to start at the very beginning by learning the alef bet.
From a moral point-of-view, the innate fear of transgression is the healthiest human disposition. This quality stands out in the Jewish people, in its natural aversion to any sin or wrongdoing in opposition to the Torah and the commandments, which are the inheritance of the community of Jacob. This disposition will only return to the Jewish people through national program of Torah learning, both in producing outstanding Torah scholars, and in establishing fixed times of daily learning for the masses. It is impossible for the Jewish people to return to their natural life, in all of its breadth and stature, if it will not also return to its spiritual nature, in all of its fullness, including the all-important fear of sin which, when healthy, brings remorse and t’shuva in its wake. With the strengthening of the Nation’s vitality in all of its facets, its restless confusion will cease, and its national institutions will all return to their natural moral focus, so unique and deep-seated in Israel, to differentiate with a hair-splitting exactness between the forbidden and the permitted. Then all the detailed laws of the Torah and the Sages will be recognized as the necessary foundation for an independent Jewish life, without which a vital national existence is impossible (Orot HaT’shuva, 6:3).
The holiness of the Jewish Nation is expressed in our yearning for absolute morality, goodness, and universal justice. To accomplish this on a national level, in day-to-day life, high-sounding platitudes are not enough. To be a holy Nation, holiness must be grounded in every aspect of life. Morality must shine in all spheres of endeavor. Only in this manner can all of life be sanctified and uplifted. How can this be achieved? Only by Israel’s commitment to all of the Divine laws of Sinai. It is the detailed commandments, in all of their exact measure and precision, which embody God’s will for the world. Only the Divine Law of the Torah can provide the foundation for a pure Jewish life, by establishing guidelines for every aspect of our lives, from the food we eat, to the type of clothes we wear, to our dealings in business, our personal behavior, and our national priorities and goals.
However, a simple learning of Torah is not enough to return us completely to our roots. After a two-thousand year exile, we have to undergo a profound, inner transformation in order to truly become a kingdom of priests and a holy Nation. A change in external behavior is not enough. When we return to our roots, the transformation must affect our personalities, our thought processes, and our innermost aspirations. Rabbi Kook writes:
To strengthen these foundations, we need to endear the hearts of our people to the light of the true, inner Torah, the secrets of Torah, which, because of their influence on students who had not been properly prepared, brought about their rejection and scorn. It is, however, from this life-giving light… that the world’s lasting salvation will sprout. The appearance of this exalted, benevolent light will revitalize both the Nation and the individual, to raise the fallen tabernacle of David, and to remove the shame of the people of God from all of the earth (Orot HaT’shuva, 4:9).
Rabbi Kook is careful to warn that only a Torah student with the proper background of learning can safely delve into the deep waters of Kabbalah. Nonetheless, it is precisely the mystical side of Torah which gives Israel the high-octane fuel it needs to sustain the long and difficult task of national rebuilding. Rabbi Kook himself was a master of Kabbalah. The profound insights found throughout all of his writings, his towering love for all of mankind, and his understanding of the unity of all creation, stem in great measure from this source. His teachings reveal how the inner formulations of Torah are at work in our time, bringing the national t’shuva of Israel ever-and-ever closer. By illuminating the inner blueprint of existence which is secretly active, guiding all things toward completion, Rabbi Kook helps us to set our lives on the ultimate course of perfection and joy.
True complete t’shuva necessitates exalted horizons of meditation, an ascent to the supernal realm which is filled with truth and holiness. One can attain this only through the study of the inner dimensions of Torah and Divine wisdom dealing with the mystical understanding of the world. This demands physical and moral purity, so that the darkness of lusts will not pollute the lucidness of the intellect. But the study of Torah must precede all other disciplines, especially the study of the transcendental Torah, for only it can break down all of the iron-like, material barriers separating the individual and the community from their Father in Heaven (Ibid, 10:1).
Ours is a very material generation. Living in a capitalistic, consumer-oriented society, we are bombarded by material messages. Like one of Pavlov’s dogs, we are trained to want more money, nicer clothes, a bigger house, a newer car. This obsession with the material world can block out spiritual light completely. Only an intense inner purification, and a connection to transcendental realms, can free us from the physical lusts which block our connection to God. Thus t’shuva and the secrets of Torah go hand-in-hand, each one lighting the path for the other.
In another essay, Rabbi Kook explains why the mystical understandings of Torah are vital to Israel’s rise toward national rebirth (Ibid, 14:6). The Talmud states that preceding the Mashiach there will be great chutzpah in the world (Sotah 49B). This chutzpah is an insolence directed against Judaism. It is a brazenness which seeks to negate everything holy and Divine. Before the truth of the Torah is finally revealed, there will be a great darkness. Torah scholars will be held in contempt. The teachings of Judaism will be scorned. This comes about because, as the time of Mashiach draws near, the world is ready to embrace a universal vision of unity, where all particulars are recognized as part of the whole. In contrast, the Torah is seen as a code of primitive details, something specifically Jewish, bounded on all sides with restrictions, with no connection to the wide world and its seemingly infinite horizons.
For example, a universal yearning for unity can be seen in the great popularity of Internet. From his home computer, a person can now be connected to all of the world. He is no longer just a name in a phonebook, but an active player in a complex, international game with his own Timeline and webpage. Thanks to advances in communications, he has the knowledge of the world at his fingertips. On his private, home screen, he can see from one end of the globe to the other. And people all over the world can also find out about him.
While the world is striving toward this cosmic oneness, the Torah, to the uninitiated, seems to be preoccupied with unimportant details, with keeping kosher and not letting women wear pants. This viewpoint occurs when the Torah is looked at in a myopic fashion, precept by precept, law after law, with the focus on an individual’s behavior. However, to an experienced “surfer” in the great sea of Torah, what great expanses of unity and wholeness lie under each individual command! What endless horizons and waves! What mind-expanding revelations of oneness, not only of this world, but of all the spiritual worlds which constitute and surround all of existence! When a person learns how a simple action on his part, like the waving of the lulav on sukkot, sets off a chain reaction in all six directions of the world to the farthest reaches of the universe, drawing down wellsprings of blessing and healing to mankind, he will no longer view the Four Species as some private religious ritual, but as a global and cosmological tikun.
If people studied the Torah in this light, to broaden their spiritual ken, in order to understand the connection between the details of life and the universal, spiritual realms of existence, then t’shuva would come, and the perfection of the world would follow in its wake…. We must employ a higher healing, to add strength to our spiritual talents, to understand in a clear, straightforward, down-to-earth manner, the connection between the teachings and commandments of the Torah, and the highest, most universal ideas. Then the power of the spiritual life will be renewed in the world, in practice and theory, and a movement of general t’shuva will begin to blossom and bloom (Orot HaT’shuva, 4:10).
We have mentioned that t’shuva and Redemption run along two parallel, overlapping paths. Since Torah is so integral to t’shuva, it is not surprising to discover that it is precisely the secrets of Torah which pave the way for the Redemption of Israel (“Even Shlema,” by the gaon of Vilna, 11:3). The opposite is also true. Rabbi Kook writes that it is precisely the dry, superficial learning of Torah which causes the Nation to become habituated, and even comfortable, with life in foreign lands. He writes:
“By being alienated from the recognition of the secrets of Torah, the holiness of Eretz Yisrael is understood in a confused, unfocused fashion. By alienating oneself from the secrets of God, the highest treasures of the deep Divine life become extraneous, secondary matters which do not enter the depths of the soul, and as a result, the most potent force of the individual’s and the Nation’s soul will be missing, and the exile is found to be pleasant in its own accord. For to someone who only comprehends the superficial level, nothing basic will seem to be lacking in the absence of the Land of Israel, the Jewish Kingdom, and all of the facets of the Nation in its built form.
“For him, the foundation of yearning for salvation is like a side branch that cannot be united with the deep understanding of Judaism, and this itself testifies to the poverty of insight which is found in this juiceless perspective.”
Rabbi Kook continues:
We are not rejecting any form of study or contemplation which is founded on truthfulness, on sensitivity of thought, or on the fear of Heaven, in whatever form it takes; but only rejecting the specific aspect of this perspective which seeks to negate the secrets of Torah and their great influence on the spirit of the Nation – for this is a tragedy which we are obligated to fight against with counsel and wisdom, with holiness and valor (Orot, Eretz Yisrael, 2).
Basically, Rabbi Kook is saying that it is not enough for a Jew to study only about the commandments which effect his personal everyday life. He must also learn about the more encompassing concepts of Judaism like the role of the Nation of Israel in perfecting the world; the meaning of Eretz Yisrael to the Nation; the centrality of Jerusalem to Judaism; the importance of prophecy; the Temple; and the deeper understandings of the ingathering of the exiles. If he does not immerse himself in these studies, then he will not miss their absence, and he will be content with his life of exile in foreign lands (For a detailed discussion of this theme, see the book, “Eretz Yisrael – The Teachings of Rabbi Kook” by Rabbi David Samson and yours truly).
Elsewhere in “Orot,” Rabbi Kook writes:
The secrets of Torah bring the Redemption and return Israel to its Land, because the Torah of truth in its mighty inner logic demands the complete soul of the Nation. Through this inner Torah, the Nation begins to feel the pain of exile and to realize the absolute impossibility for its character to fulfill its potential as long as it is oppressed on foreign soil. As long as the light of the supernal Torah is sealed and bound, the inner need to return to Zion will not stir itself with deep faith (“Orot,” pg.95).
Thus we learn that a national return to the Land of Israel, and to the Torah, are necessary for the complete t’shuva of both the individual Jew and the Nation. Living a religious life in the Diaspora is not to be taken as the end of the journey. It is the combination of a life of Torah in Eretz Yisrael which brings the Jewish People to perfection, and which returns the light of God to the world. As Rabbi Kook writes, “The Judaism of Eretz Yisrael is the salvation itself” (“Orot.” Eretz Yisrael, 1).Tzvi Fishman
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. His recent movie "Stories of Rebbe Nachman" The DVD of the movie is available online.The author's opinion does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Jewish Press.
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