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July 4, 2015 / 17 Tammuz, 5775
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T’shuva Makes the World Go Round


T'shuva

The Gemara teaches that t’shuva existed before the world was created. In a similar vein, Rabbi Kook writes that the spirit of t’shuva hovers over the world and gives it its basic form and the motivation to develop. It is t’shuva which gives the world its direction and its inner energy to constantly progress. The desire to refine the world and to embellish it with beauty and splendor all derive from the spirit of t’shuva.

T’shuva is the Divine, spiritual force in the universe which is constantly propelling all of existence toward perfection. It is the voice of God calling, “Return to Me, you children of men.” Due to the “separation” from God through transgressions, improper living, or through the act of Creation itself, there is a constant drive in all things to return to a harmony with their Maker. Rabbi Kook writes that, “It is impossible to express this awesomely deep idea.” The force of t’shuva, like gravity in the physical world, is built into the inner fabric of life. It stands as the impetus behind all human history, all world development, all endeavor toward social improvement. It is the force which inspires all cultural, artistic, and scientific advancement. Similarly, the yearning of mankind for universal justice and moral perfection is a product of the encompassing, ever-present power of t’shuva.

On a personal level, when a man sells his house in the country because he wants to improve the quality of his life, he is involved in t’shuva. When a family has a fun and relaxing vacation, they are being motivated by forces of t’shuva. Though there may be underlying factors of profit and self-interest when a pharmaceutical company produces a new drug, they too are involved in t’shuva, if their product truly helps to benefit the world.

“T’shuva derives from the yearning of all existence to be better, purer, more fortified and elevated than it is. Hidden within this desire is a life-force capable of overcoming that which limits and weakens existence. The personal t’shuva of an individual, and even more so of the community, draws its strength from this source of life which is constantly active with never-ending vigor.”

Never-Ending T’shuva

In his writings, Rabbi Kook illuminates the phenomenon of t’shuva in an entirely new fashion. Here we encounter the notion of t’shuva, not as personal penitence alone, but as an ever-active force in the world which constantly works to unite all things with God.

“The currents of specific and general t’shuva flood along. They resemble waves of flames on the surface of the sun, which break free and ascend in a never-ending struggle, granting life to numerous worlds and numberless creatures. It is impossible to grasp the multitude of colors of this great sun that lights all worlds, the sun of t’shuva, because of their abundance and wondrous speed, because they emanate from the Source of life itself….”

In his poetic style, Rabbi Kook describes t’shuva like a sun which sends out constant flames of warming light to the world. Just as God has created the sun as life’s principle energy source, so too is t’shuva the spiritual energy source of existence. T’shuva does not only operate when a person decides to mend his erring ways – t’shuva exists all of the time. It exists both within man and all around him, as a personal t’shuva, and as a t’shuva which comes from Above. Like gravity, or the wind, or the rays of the sun, t’shuva is ever present. It is a constant force always at work, bringing the world to completion. One day the force may hit Jonathan; the next day Miriam; one day soon it will uplift the Jewish people as a whole. Its waves flow by us in a continuous stream. Minute by minute, the song of t’shuva calls out to us to hurry and join in the flow.

That’s our lesson for today. If you don’t want to wait for the daily doses of t’shuva that we’ll be delivering, you can get yourself a copy of The Art of T’shuva and give yourselves a jumbo fix. But one step at a time up the ladder of t’shuva is a wise way to do it, so that you don’t fall back down, God forbid, just as fast as you soared up.

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.

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Tzvi Fishman, author of the Jewish Press blog Felafel on Rye and author of more than a dozen books.
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