This month, we will be dedicating our blogs to the subject of t‘shuva, as illuminated in the writings of Rabbi Kook. So you can look forward to daily light bulbs of inspiration and self-improvement, taken from our commentary, The Art of T’shuva, which I had the privilege of writing with Rabbi David Samson. It very well may be the most exciting and worthwhile voyage you ever experience.
Dear Reader — if you are looking to be happy, creative, in harmony with God and with the universe, Rabbi Kook has the answer — t’shuva.
For Rabbi Kook, t’shuva is a concept much deeper than the common understanding of repentance. It is much more than penitence over sins and the remorse a person must feel when he strays from the pathways of goodness and truth. While t’shuva includes these factors, the phenomenon of t’shuva spreads out over all the universe, bringing harmony and perfection to all of existence.
Return to the Source
While t’shuva is normally translated as penitence or repentance, the root of the Hebrew word t’shuva means “return.” T’shuva is a return to the source, to one’s roots, to one’s deepest inner self. Rabbi Kook writes:
“When one forgets the essence of one’s soul; when one distracts his mind from seeing the true nature of his own inner life, everything becomes doubtful and confused. The principal t’shuva, which immediately lights up the darkness, is for a person to return to himself, to the root of his soul. Then he will immediately return to God, to the Soul of all souls. And he will continue to stride higher and higher in holiness and purity. This is true for an individual, a nation, for all of mankind, and for the perfection of all existence….”
Anything which is a return to the pure, original, natural state, whether it be physical, moral, or spiritual, is a part of t’shuva. As Rabbi Kook develops his ideas about t’shuva, he speaks not only about the individual, but about the Jewish nation as a whole. T’shuva encompasses the nation of Israel, and more. All of humanity is destined for perfection and upliftment. Rabbi Kook even writes about the t’shuva of the heavens and earth — when the bark of a tree will be as edible as its fruit, and when the moon will return to its original size, as big and bright as the sun. In effect, t’shuva is the force which pushes all physical and spiritual worlds towards completion.
One can readily understand that to reach fulfillment and happiness, a person must be his true self. In modern times, this basic understanding has been corrupted into a “do your own thing” attitude. Rabbi Kook is advocating a deeper, inner search, far beyond the surface passions and emotions which often lead people to express their every desire and lust. Rabbi Kook understands that the individual, and all of existence, has a deeper, spiritual source. In the depths of this ever-pure realm, our true essence lies. A person who makes the inward journey of t’shuva comes to encounter his soul and the Creator who gave it. As Rabbi Kook writes:
“It is only through the great truth of returning to oneself that the individual, the nation, the world, all of the worlds, and all of existence, will return to its Maker, to be illuminated by the light of life.”
Throughout history, man has been searching to discover the driving force of life. To a capitalist, money makes the world go around. To a romanticist, love is what impassions mankind. Freudians claim that man’s unconscious desires and libido are to blame. Peering into a microscope, a modern physicist declares that atoms and neutrons cause the world to spin. For biologists, the uniting power resides in strands of DNA. When Rabbi Kook gazes into the inner workings of the soul, the soul of the individual, and the soul of the world, he sees that the force behind all existence is t’shuva.
The Age of Anxiety
It is no secret that there is great darkness, confusion, and pain in the world. Bookstores are filled with self-help books on how to be happy. Layman’s guides to psychology line shelf after shelf. Our generation has been called “the age of anxiety.” People often live out their lives plagued with depression, sickness, a sense of unfulfillment and constant unrest. Psychiatrists, psychologists, and humanists like Freud, Jung, Adler, Horney, Fromm, May, Erikson, Dr. Dryer, and dozens of others have become the prophets of the moment, proposing dozens of theories to explain man’s existential dilemmas. Whether it is because we suffer from an Oedipus complex, or from a primal anxiety at having been separated from the womb, from sexual repression, or from the trauma of death, mankind is beset with neuroses. Vials of valium and an assortment of anti-depressants and “uppers” can be found in the medicine cabinets of the very best homes. Not to mention the twenty-four-hour bombardment of work, television, computer games, discos, and drugs which people use to blot out the never-ending angst that they feel.