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April 21, 2014 / 21 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Rav Kook’

The Key to Success

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

As we continue on the t’shuva train toward Yom Kippur, I would like to take this opportunity to bless the readers of the Jewish Press, and my friends the world over, with a year of health, happiness, and success.

While the greatest success a Jew can achieve is to live a Torah life in the Land of Israel, success comes in many shapes and sizes. To make sure that your new year will be blessed with success, here’s a wonderful teaching of Rabbi Kook, condensed from our commentary, “The Art of T’shuva,” which has the power to make everyone a winner.

It is no secret that western society is success oriented. Everyone wants to be a success, whether it be a successful basketball player, a successful lawyer, a successful doctor, a successful housewife… the list goes on and on. Success is championed as one of life’s greatest values. Everyone loves success stories. Everyone envies successful people. From the earliest ages, children are taught to admire success. Parents push their kids to be successful. The drive to succeed is reinforced in schools. The competition is fierce to get into top colleges, because they are seen as the doors to success. Working your way up the ladder of success is the mainstay of capitalism. Accordingly, bookstores are filled with dozens of guides on how to succeed.

Accordingly, the poor soul who does not succeed is a loser. In western society, if you are not a success, you are probably very unhappy. Your self-image is bound to be low. The successful people are the winners, and you are nothing more than a bum.

Rabbi Kook has good news. If you are a loser, all is not lost. You too can be a winner. You too can succeed. How? Through t’shuva.

That’s right. The key to success is t’shuva. For when life is looked at through spiritual glasses, for what it really is, the most important thing is neither money, nor honor, nor power, nor fame. The most important thing is pursuing a life of goodness. True success lies in simply striving to be good. For real achievement is measured by what is important to God, not by what society flaunts. In God’s eyes, a woman can be successful without looking like Barbie. A man can be a success without having five or six credit cards and a six-figure salary. The real man, the real success, is the baal t’shuva, the man of Torah.

Rabbi Kook discusses this startling idea in his writings on ratzon, רצון. The Hebrew word ratzon is usually translated as will, or willpower, but the word has a deep connotation which requires some further explanation. He writes:

The will which is forged by t’shuva is the will which is imbedded in the depths of existence, and not the lesser will that concerns itself with the superficial and external facets of life. This (deeper) will is the most fundamental force in the foundation of life, and this is the genuine character of the soul (Orot HaT’shuva, 9:1. See the “Art of T’shuva,” Ch.12).

This fundamental force is the desire to get closer to God. This is the deepest expression of the will. For instance, the desire to eat ice cream is a relatively superficial desire, an offshoot of the desire to eat. On a deeper level, the desire to eat is an expression of the will to survive. While not every man has a desire to eat ice cream, every man does have a will to survive. This will, the will to live, is a deeper phase of ratzon, and something less dependent upon a man’s free choice. This can be seen in an old, dying person. Though racked with sufferings, he still clutches onto life with his last ounce of strength. Even if he lapses into a coma, the will to live in his soul continues to function.

On an even deeper level, buried in the will to live is man’s deepest, most basic will — the will to get close to God. The will to be connected to God finds expression in the will to do good and in the longing for goodness. Just as G-d is good, we should be good. Just as God is giving, we should be giving. Man is the only creature who possesses a free will. Our task is to align our will with the will of our Creator. For the Jewish people, living a life of goodness means living a life filled with Torah, which is God’s will for the Jews. This is our true happiness, as it says, “The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart” (Tehillim, 19:9).

Thoughts Make the Man

Friday, September 7th, 2012

Dear Friends, the clock is ticking down to Rosh HaShanah. You can hear the shofars blasting all over the world. T’shuva may seem like a towering mountain too high to climb, but it’s really not as hard as you think.

Rabbi Kook teaches that even contemplations of t’shuva have significant value. To understand this, we must look at life with a different orientation than we normally do. Usually, we are pragmatists. We judge the value of things by the influence they have on ourselves and the world. For instance, ten dollars is worth more than five dollars because it can buy more. A doctorate is better than a bachelor’s degree because it can lead to a better paying and more prestigious job.

There are things, however, that have an absolute value, regardless of their tangible impact in this world. Truth is an example. Holiness is another. To this list, Rabbi Kook adds good thoughts. Contemplations of t’shuva, even if they do not lead to a resulting change in behavior, bring benefit to the individual and the world.

This is similar to the question in the Talmud — which is greater, Torah study or good deeds? The answer is Torah study because it leads to good deeds. You might think that if the ultimate goal is the deeds, then they would be more important. But our Sages tell us that the thought processes which lead to the deeds are of primary concern. Being immersed in Torah has an absolute value in itself. Thus, Rabbi Kook writes:

The thought of t’shuva transforms all transgressions and the darkness they cause, along with their spiritual bitterness and stains, into visions of joy and comfort, for it is through these contemplations that a person is filled with a deep feeling of hatred for evil, and the love of goodness is increased within him with a powerful force (Orot HaT’shuva, 7:1).

T’shuva can be dissected into two different realms. There is the nitty-gritty t’shuva of mending an actual deed, and there is the thought process which precedes the action. The value of these thoughts is not to be measured according to the activities which they inspire. For instance, a person may decide that he wants to be righteous. But when the person tries to translate this thought into action, he finds himself overwhelmed. To be righteous, he has to get up early in the morning to pray. He has to stop doing a host of forbidden deeds. He has to watch what he says, and watch what he eats. Before he even begins, his will is broken. Though his wish to do t’shuva was sincere, he couldn’t find the inner strength to actualize his thoughts into deeds.

Rabbi Kook says that all is not lost. This person’s original idea to do t’shuva stemmed from the deepest recesses of the soul, where it was inspired by the spiritual waves of t’shuva which encircle the world. Thus he has already been touched by t’shuva’s cleansing streams. In effect, he has boarded the boat. Though his will power  may be weak at the moment, his soul is longing for God.

Through the contemplations of t’shuva, a person hears the voice of God calling him from the Torah and from the heart, from the world and all it contains. The will for good is fortified within him. The body itself, which causes transgression, becomes more and more purified until the thought of t’shuva pervades it (Ibid, 7:5).

In the beginning of his t’shuva journey, a person must realize the absolute value of his initial inspiration. He has to find a new way of judging the value of things, not always looking for concrete benefits or results. When a person undertakes t’shuva, his thoughts weigh as much as his deeds. T’shuva is not just a process of do’s and don’ts, but rather a conscious and subconscious overhaul of an individual’s thought processes and emotions. Already by thinking about t’shuva one is engaged in it. As the saying goes: you are what you think.

Even the thought of t’shuva brings great healing. However, the soul can only find full freedom when this potential t’shuva is actualized. Nonetheless, since the contemplation is bound up with the longing for t’shuva, there is no cause for dismay. God will certainly provide all of the means necessary for complete repentance, which brightens all darkness with its light… ‘A broken and contrite heart, O God, Thou will not despise’ (Ibid. Tehillim, 51;19).

When we recognize the value of our thoughts, we discover a very encouraging concept. One needn’t despair when confronted by the often difficult changes which t’shuva demands. This is especially true in the initial stages before a person’s increasing love for G-d makes all difficulties and sacrifices seem small. Even if a person cannot immediately redress all of his wrongdoings, he should know that there is a great value in just wanting to be good. One can take comfort that he wants to be a better person. With God’s help, he will also be able to actualize his yearnings. But in the meantime, just thinking good thoughts is already strengthening his inner self and the world.

The Heroes of T’shuva

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

If there was a guaranteed deal that by shelling out 15 dollars, you would get 15 million dollars in return, would you do it? Of course you would. Well, that’s exactly what I’m offering you. For the 15 bucks it will cost to order the book, “The Art of T’shuva” explaining Rabbi Kook’s incomparable writings on t’shuva, you will be receiving a value of $15,000,000 in return. For those of you who think I’m making myself a bundle from book sales, all the profit I get is donated to charity, so you win on both counts. And if this isn’t enough of a gracious offer, I’m serializing a condensed version of the book, right here at The JewishPress.com, for free, in the “Felafel on Rye” blogs  I’ll be posting until Yom Kippur. So at least, share the blog link with your friends, and do them the priceless favor of turning them on to the lifesaving depth and beauty of t’shuva.

We learned that the joy of t’shuva comes from removing the barriers of transgression and melancholy which separate a person from God. Another reason why the joy of t’shuva is so great is because the happiness of t’shuva is felt in the soul. Until a person discovers t’shuva, he experiences the pleasures of the world on the physical, emotional, or intellectual levels alone. He enjoys good foods, stimulating books, new clothes and the like. But a man has a deeper, spiritual level of being, his soul, which derives no satisfaction from earthly pleasures.

To what is this analogous? To the case of a city dweller who marries a princess. If he brought her all that the world possessed, it would mean nothing to her, by virtue of her being a king’s daughter. So it is with the soul. If it were brought all the delights of the world, they would be nothing to it, in view of its pertaining to the higher elements (Mesillat Yesharim, Ch.1).

When a person does t’shuva, he opens his soul to a river of spiritual delight. The joy he discovers is like nothing which he has ever experienced. Not only are his senses affected, t’shuva touches his soul. Just as his soul is deeper than his other levels of being, the happiness he discovers is deeper. Just as his soul is eternal, his joy is eternal. Unlike the transitory pleasures of the physical world, the joy of t’shuva is everlasting. A jacuzzi feels good, but when it is over, the pleasure soon fades away. But in the heavenly jacuzzi of t’shuva, you don’t just get wet — you get cleansed and transformed. Thus, Rabbi Kook writes:

When the light of t’shuva appears and the desire for goodness beats purely in the heart, a channel of happiness and joy is opened, and the soul is nurtured from a river of delights (Orot HaT’shuva, 14:6).

This river of delight is the river of t’shuva. Rabbi Kook’s use of this expression is not metaphorical alone. In the spiritual world, there actually exists a river of t’shuva. (For the Kabbalists among you, it’s the wellsprings of Binah flowing to us through the now t’shuva-unclogged river of the Yesod). This is the constant flow of t’shuva which, though invisible, is always present and active. It is our channel to true joy and happiness because it is our channel to God. Nothing in the world can compare to its pleasures. Rabbi Kook explains:

Great and exalted is the pleasure of t’shuva. The searing flame of the pain caused by sin purifies the will and refines the character of a person to an exalted, sparkling purity until the great joy of the life of t’shuva is opened for him. T’shuva raises the person higher and higher through its stages of bitterness, pleasantness, grieving, and joy. Nothing purges and purifies a person, raises him to the stature of being truly a man, like the profound process of t’shuva. In the place where the baale t’shuva stand, even the completely righteous cannot stand (Berachot 34B. Orot HaT’shuva, 13:11).

The real hero is not the Hollywood tough guy. It isn’t the man who smokes Marlboro cigarettes. It isn’t the corporate president who owns a Lear jet and three yachts. The true man is the person involved in t’shuva. Rabbi Kook teaches, “The more a person delves into the essence of t’shuva, he will find in it the source of heroism” (Ibid, 12:2). This is similar to the teaching of our Sages, “Who is a hero? He who conquers his evil inclination” (Avot, 4:1). He is the person who is always seeking to better himself; the person who is always trying to come closer to God. He is the person who is open to self-assessment and change; the person who has the courage to confront his soul’s inner pain and to transform its bitterness into joy.

T’shuva elevates a person above all of the baseness of the world. Notwithstanding, it does not alienate the person from the world. Rather, the baal t’shuva elevates life and the world with him (Orot HaT’shuva, 12:1).

Sometimes, people have a misunderstanding of t’shuva. They think that t’shuva comes to separate a person from the world. While some baale t’shuva make a point of isolating themselves completely from secular society, this is not the ideal. During the early stages of t’shuva, a person should certainly avoid situations which are antithetical to his newfound goals, in order to rebuild his life on purer foundations, but a baal t’shuva is not a recluse. He should not cut himself off from the world. The opposite. By participating in the life around him, he elevates, not only himself, but also the world. After returning to God, he must return to the world. By doing so, he returns holiness to its proper place, and makes God’s Presence sovereign in the world. Rabbi Kook writes:

Tzaddikim should be natural people, and every aspect of their bodies and beings should be characterized by life and health. Then, through their spiritual greatness, they can elevate all of the world, and all things will rise up with them (Arpelei Tohar, pf.16).

God created the heavens for the angels. Our lives are to be lived down on earth. It is our task to bring healing and perfection to this world, not to the next. When the powerful life-force which went into sin is redirected toward good, life is uplifted. A baal t’shuva who returns to a former situation in which he sinned, and now conducts himself in a righteous, holy manner, affects a great tikun. The Rambam writes: “For instance, if a man had sinful relations with a woman, and after a time was alone with her, his passion for her persisting, and his physical powers unabated, while he continued to live in the same district where he had sinned, and yet he refrains and does not transgress, he is a baal t’shuva” (Laws of T’shuva, 2:1). He is like a gunslinger who mends his ways and comes back to town to do away with the bad guys. Because of his t’shuva, Dodge City is a better, safer, more wholesome place.

The inner forces which led him to sin are transformed. The powerful desire which smashes all borders and brought the person to sin, itself becomes a great, exalted life-force which acts to bring goodness and blessing. The greatness of life which emanates from the highest holy source constantly hovers over t’shuva and its heroes, for they are the champions of life, who call for its perfection. They demand the victory of good over evil, and the return to life’s true goodness and happiness, to the true, exalted freedom, which suits the man who ascends to his spiritual source and essential Divine image (Orot HaT’shuva, 12:1).

It is time to take t’shuva out of the closet. The true champions of life are not the basketball players, not the Hollywood stars, not even the Prime Ministers and Presidents. The real heroes are the masters of t’shuva. They are the Supermen who battle the forces of darkness in order to fill the world with goodness and blessing. Teenagers! Tear down your wall posters of wrestlers and rock stars! The people to be admired are the masters of t’shuva! You can be one too!

Saturday Night Fever

Friday, August 31st, 2012

There is an old aphorism which claims that two things in life are certain: death and taxes. To this, Rabbi Kook would add a third certainty — t’shuva.

Before we begin to explore the multi- faceted world of t’shuva, as it applies to the individual and to existence as a whole, it is important to know that the return to the Source is inevitable. Just as the body has a built-in mechanism for self-healing, so does mankind. T’shuva is promised, and t’shuva will come. The world will return to its Maker.

“The world must come to a state of complete t’shuva. The world is not static; rather it progresses and develops, and the true, complete development must inevitably bring absolute health, both physical and spiritual, and this will bring the light of the life of t’shuva with it” (Orot Ha’Tshuva, 5:3).

Webster’s Dictionary defines determinism as: “a doctrine which postulates that acts of the will, occurrences in nature, or social or psychological phenomena are determined by antecedent causes.” In Rabbi Kook’s era, the theory of determinism was the talk of the town. Darwin theorized that the world was deterministically guided by a course of evolution. Marx declared that communism was deterministic in nature. The Americans claimed that capitalism, not communism, was destined to conquer the world. Zionists said that the Jewish people were deterministically driven to have their own state. Freud insisted that man was deterministically motivated by the events of his past.

As if observing the world from the top of a mountain peak, Rabbi Kook wrote that behind all of these social, political, and scientific movements was the movement of movements, the determinism of determinisms — t’shuva. At the root of them all, the inner force of t’shuva was constantly pushing the world forward to make it a better place. When the t’shuva force hits a political thinker like Marx, the “Communist Manifesto” is born. When it hits Herzl, it results in a book, “The Jewish State.” When it hits a deep, spiritual thinker like Rabbi Kook, it becomes “Orot HaT’shuva.” T’shuva can take many forms, depending on the person, and the extent to which he has purified himself. However, one thing is common to all, whether it be the drive to build a utopian society; to abolish poverty and disease; to prevent aging and death; to produce healthier foods; to ban nuclear weapons; to protect the environment; and to guarantee equal rights for all minority groups — all of these things are driven by the phenomenon of t’shuva.

The comforting words of Rabbi Kook as he passed by the Valley of Hinom in Jerusalem (see yesterday’s blog) come to assure us that the world is indeed becoming a better place. After all, people no longer sacrifice their children to the gods. There is a deterministic trend in the world toward improvement and progress. While parts of mankind are still gripped by primitive superstitions and customs, world civilization has come a long way since the days of Ghengis Khan. The Dark Ages gave way to the Renaissance with its focus on art and literature. With the Age of Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution, mankind took another leap forward. Once man lived in fear of forces he could not control, now he felt that his intelligence and reason could lead him to master the world. In modern times, the Fall of the Bastille and the Age of Emancipation, have brought great benefit to mankind. Generally, the world is a healthier place than it was just a few decades ago. This world development is all a part of t’shuva.

One might argue that while the world constantly develops in cultural and material spheres, spiritual t’shuva is destined to remain a dream. Individuals, yes, there are always a few oddballs that latch onto religion, but the world? “In G-d we trust” may be written on the dollar, but the dollar is worshipped far more. Not only that, violence and murder are rampant all over the world. And in the matter of sexual purity, man today is not much more elevated than the average Viking of the past. Nonetheless, Rabbi Kook has hope.

“T’shuva is ever-present in the heart. Even at the moment of transgression itself, t’shuva is hidden in the soul, and it sends out its rays which afterward are revealed when remorse calls out for t’shuva. In the depths of life, t’shuva exists, since t’shuva preceded the world, and before sin occurred, the remedy of t’shuva had already been prepared. Therefore, nothing is more certain in the world than t’shuva, and in the end, everything will return to its perfected state” (Ibid, 6:2).

Rabbi Kook continues by saying that the certainty of t’shuva is all the more guaranteed regarding the nation of Israel, whose t’shuva is promised, both in the Torah and in the words of our Prophets. Israel stands waiting to return to its original holy yearning for God, to express in life the true nature of its soul, in every facet of its nationhood and being, “in spite of all the iron curtains which are blocking the manifestation of this mighty inner essence.”

T’shuva Brings Healing to the World

Thursday, August 30th, 2012

Shut the latches of the spaceship. Fasten your seatbelts. Get ready for another magic mystery tour through the galaxies of t’shuva, as illuminated for us in the writings of Rabbi Kook.

If you were like me, you’d order the book, “The Art of T’shuva” (available online) already today, so you can hurry up and do as much t’shuva as you can before the Almighty searches you out in His Big Computer in the sky and views all the personal youtubes you’ve starred in during the year when you thought no one was watching. But you’re not like me, and so you probably won’t buy the book. That’s one of the reasons why I’m in Israel and you’re still in Flatbush or Boro Park.

As we learned, mankind is always involved in t’shuva. The fact that there are many non-religious people today should not be held as a contradiction. T’shuva must be looked at in an encompassing perspective that spans all generations.

A story about Rabbi Kook may help illustrate. One day, Rabbi Kook was walking by the Old City in Jerusalem with Rabbi Chaim Zonnenfeld, one of the leading rabbis of the Ultra-Orthodox community.

“Look how awful our situation is,” the Rabbi observed. “See how many secular Jews there our in the city. Just a few generations ago, their father’s fathers were all Orthodox Jews.”

“One must look at Am Yisrael in a wider perspective,” Rabbi Kook answered. “Do you see this valley over here, the Valley of Hinom? This was once a site for human sacrifice. Today, even the crassest secularist will not offer his child as a human sacrifice for any pagan ideal. When you look at today’s situation in the span of all history, things do not seem so bad. On the contrary, you can see that there has been great progress.”

The Rambam, at the end of the Laws of Kings, refers to this same development process of redemption which encompasses all things in life. He asks the question — if Christianity is a false religion, why did God grant it so much dominion? In the time of the Rambam, Christianity and Islam ruled over the world. The Jews suffered miserably under both.

The Rambam’s answer is based on a sweeping historical perspective which finds a certain value in Christianity, even though the Rambam himself classifies Christianity as idol worship (Laws of Idol Worship, 9:4, uncensored edition). On the one hand, he emphatically condemns Christianity, and on the other hand he maintains that Christianity has a positive role in the development of world history. How are we to reconcile this contradiction?

The Rambam writes that Christianity serves as a facilitator to elevate mankind from the darkness of paganism toward the recognition of monotheism. In effect, it is a stepping stone enabling mankind to make the leap from idol worship to the worship of God.

The belief in an invisible God does not come easily to the masses. Christianity, weaned mankind away from the belief in many gods to a belief in a “three-leaf clover” of a father, a son, and a holy ghost. Once the world is accustomed to this idea, though it is still idol worship, the concept of one supreme God is not so removed. Furthermore, the Rambam writes that Christianity’s focus on the messiah prepares the world for the day when the true Jewish messiah will come.

Today, because of Christianity’s influence, all the world, from the Eskimos to the Zulus, have heard about the messiah, so that when he arrives, he will have a lot less explaining to do. “Oh, it’s you,” mankind will say on the heralded day. Though they will be surprised to find out that it’s not Jezeus, they’ll say all the same, “We’ve been waiting for you.”

Thus, when world history is looked at in an encompassing perspective, even Christianity, with all of its many negative factors, can be seen to play a positive role in mankind’s constant march toward t’shuva.

When we understand this historic, all-encompassing perspective, we can see that a world movement like Christianity, despite all of its evil, can influence the course of human history toward a higher ideal. But how does one man’s t’shuva bring redemption closer? How does a person’s remorse over having stolen some money bring healing to the cosmos as a whole?

T’Shuva and Finding Happiness

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

Rabbi Kook teaches that t’shuva encompasses man’s physical being, his moral life, religious life, and his highest, most ideal intellectual endeavor. T’shuva is man’s path to wellbeing, to physical and emotional health, as well as his path to the deep self-discovery which connects him to God.

T’shuva can happen suddenly, in a burst of illumination which wondrously transforms life’s darkness to light, or it can evolve over time, gradually returning the body, psyche, and soul to the true Divine path of existence.

Rabbi Kook explains that t’shuva appears in two different penitential forms: t’shuva over a specific sin or sins; and a general, all-encompassing t’shuva which completely transforms a person’s whole being and life.

If general t’shuva can be compared to a complete car overhaul, where the entire motor is removed and replaced, then specific t’shuva is like a tune-up of engine parts, a spark plug here, a cable there, new brake fluid, oil and anti-freeze.

Specific t’shuva is commonly referred to as penitence. It is the t’shuva familiar to everyone, whereby a person sins, feels guilty, and decides to redress his wrongdoing. Rabbi Kook believes in the basic goodness of man. In his natural, moral, pristine state, man is a happy, healthy creature. When a man sins, his natural state is altered, and the difference causes him pain. Sin causes a distortion. It creates a barrier between man and his natural pure essence and source. Most essentially, sin damages man’s connection to God.

The feeling which results, whether we call it anxiety, pain, darkness, guilt, sickness, or remorse, impels the sinner to correct his wrongdoing, in order to return to the proper course of living. The sorrow which stems from transgression acts as an atonement, and the sinner is cleansed. Returned to his original state of wellbeing, the melancholy and darkness of sin is replaced by the joy and light of the renewed connection to goodness and God.

“There is a type of t’shuva which focuses on a specific sin, or many specific sins. The individual confronts his wrongdoing directly, regrets it, and feels sorry that he was ensnared in the trap of transgression. Then his soul climbs and ascends until he is freed from sinful bondage. He feels in his midst a holy freedom which brings comfort to his weary soul. His healing proceeds; the glimmers of light of a merciful sun, shining with Divine forgiveness, send him their rays, and, together with his broken heart and feelings of depression, a feeling of inner happiness graces his life…” (Orot HaT’shuva, 3).

There are times in everyone’s life when a person decides to change a particular habit, to improve a trait, or to right some outstanding wrong. He is not looking to change his whole life. Generally he is content, but he senses a need to remedy a specific failing. If a person realizes that he is stingy, he may decide that he wants to be more charitable. Or he may feel a pressing need to return a tennis racket which he stole. In the same light, a religious person may realize that his prayers lack enthusiasm and proper concentration. So he sets out to pray with more fervor. In these cases, his t’shuva deals with a specific life problem which he sets out to correct.

A person whose soul is sensitive to moral wrongdoing will feel remorse for his sins. The remorse weighs down on him, and he longs to break free from its shackles. The longing to redress his wrongdoing works like a force to shatter the darkness, opening a window of light. This light of t’shuva is a stream of Divine mercy. It is as if God reaches out and accepts the penitent’s remorse. The sin is forgiven. The path back to God has been cleared. Instead of darkness and gloom, happiness envelops the soul.

“He experiences this (happiness) at the same time that his heart remains shattered, and his spirit feels lowly and sad. In fact, this melancholy feeling suits him in his situation, adding to his inner spiritual gladness and his sense of true wholeness. He feels himself coming closer to the Source of life, to the living God, who had been so distant from him a short time before. His longing spirit jubilantly remembers its former inner pain, and, filled with emotions of gratitude, it raises its voice in song and praise: ‘Bless the Lord, O my soul, and do not forget all of His goodness; He forgives all thy iniquities, heals all thy diseases; redeems thy life from the pit; adorns thee with love and compassion; and satiates thy old age with good, so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle’s. The Lord performs righteousness and judgment for all who are oppressed’” (Tehillim, 103: 2-6. Orot HaT’shuva, 3).

The person who sins and feels remorse senses its cleansing power. He recognizes his pain as an atonement, and this brings him relief. Almost miraculously, the clouds of his transgression are lifted, and the light of t’shuva fills his being with joy. He senses that it is G-d who has freed him, and his heart abounds with gratitude and song.

You Can be a Giant!

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

I don’t know why some readers get angry at me. I only remind them what it says in the Torah. If you don’t believe me, here’s another remarkable essay by Rabbi Kook, whose vision of the rebirth of the Nation of Israel was light years ahead of everyone else. Once again, we are presenting an encapsulation of a chapter from his classic, Orot. Readers are encouraged to read the full commentary in our book, Lights on Orot – Eretz Yisrael.  It may be the most important ten bucks you ever shelled out in your lives.

If we could dissect a soul, what would we discover inside? What would a microscopic examination reveal? What are a soul’s components? Its atoms? When we probe as deeply as we can into the anatomy of the soul, suddenly under our high-powered lens, an Alef comes into focus. Then we see a Mem, and a Taf. If a soul had a genetic make-up, we would discover that its DNA helix is made up of Hebrew letters.

The Hebrew letters are the atoms and basic building blocks of the Jewish soul. The letters which Rabbi Kook describes are not only the outer, graphic shape of the letters, which have meaning in themselves, but the inner essence and content of the letters. In another work, “Rosh Millin,” Rabbi Kook writes in depth on the meaning of each of the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Unlike the letters of the English alphabet which are mere symbols of sounds with no inner meaning of their own, the letters of the Holy Tongue have an independent existence, and spiritual roots in the celestial worlds above.

In the wisdom of the Kabbalah, letters are understood to be powerful, life-giving forces. The Gemara teaches that the Hebrew letters were used to create heaven and earth. Bezalel knew how to combine the letters which were used in Creation. It was this secret wisdom which enabled him to build the Mishkan.

The Torah itself is made up of letters. Each letter is said to represent one of the basic 600,000 Jewish souls in the world. In addition to their alphabetical form, each letter has a deeper, living nature. Every letter contains a concept, a direction, a will which finds expression in the soul. Beyond a person’s individual ego is the deeper, general will of existence. There is a force of life which is Divinely inspired, and this is what inspires each individual ego and psyche. The inner components of this deeper life-force are the Hebrew letters. Just as the letters are the building blocks of Torah, and of the world, they combine to form the molecular blueprint of the soul. What atoms are to the physical world, Hebrew letters are to the spiritual. Thus, Rabbi Kook writes: ”The soul is filled with letters which are infused with the light of life, full of knowledge and will, full of spiritual seeking, and full existence.”

The soul is filled with letters which contain the Divine life-force which grants us existence. They themselves have knowledge and will and a quest for spiritual inspiration. All of a Jew’s primary activities, whether his thought, will, deed, and imagination, stem from the letters of his soul. Different combinations of letters make for different types of souls. There are high-powered combinations, and there are souls of lesser might. According to the brilliance of these life-giving letters, a man’s soul radiates with more and more energy.

“From the rays of these living letters, all of the other levels of life’s building are filled with the light of life – all of the aspects of the will, of knowledge, and of deed, of the spirit, and of the soul, in all of their values.”

Like atoms, these letters exist in a constant, dynamic flow. They are active, full of knowledge, motivation, inspiration, and will, constantly affecting the life of the soul. They are full of vision and imaginative flight. They are filled with full existence, not bounded in nature, containing a blueprint for all of Creation within them; in the same way that a molecule contains a solar system of atoms within it, and a cell contains the genetic structure of the body as a whole. Every soul contains a blueprint for all of the world. Letters activate letters in a constant chain reaction which is the motivating force of all life.

“Why Should I Live in Israel? America Has Everything I Need”

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

I seem to remember the lyrics of an old Bob Dylan song, “Something is going on Mr. Jones, but you don’t know what it is.” That’s exactly what it’s like for a Jew today if he hasn’t studied the book Orot, by Rabbi Kook. Something is going on with the Jewish People and he doesn’t know what it is. Why? Because for the first time in nearly 2000 years, Jews have risen up with great courage, taken up weapons, and fought for the right to live in our own Jewish Land. There’s another thing equally as startling to many devoutly religious Jews – the fact that the pioneers who risked their lives and largely led the way in rebuilding the Land of our forefathers were often far from Torah observance. Obviously, something very big was taking place. But because they didn’t understand it, or couldn’t accept that God had chosen to bring about the beginnings of Redemption in this seemingly traif manner, many Ultra-Orthodox Jews rejected it. It was Rabbi Kook, with his towering Torah vision, who taught us to recognize that, indeed, the long-awaited Redemption was unfolding before our eyes, even if Hashem decided to bring it about through our secular brothers.

What causes many Jews in the Diaspora, as well as communities of Haredi Jews in Israel, to have a negative to modern Zionism and the Land Israel? Rabbi Kook informs us the reason – it stems from an alienation from the secrets of Torah. Here are excerpts from Chapter Two of the book, Lights on Orot – Eretz Yisrael,   a commentary by Rabbi David Samson and yours truly, on Rabbi’s Kook’s classic work Orot. Take your time reading it. Print it out. Study it thoughtfully on Shavuot night when you have the time. Surely, it will help you to understand what is going on, Mr. Jones. (And for readers, like me, who prefer shorter, more bloggier blogs, we will be getting back to them soon, Bezrat Hashem, after our pre-Shavuot mini course in Orot.)

In the first essay of Orot, we learned that Eretz Yisrael is not a secondary, external acquisition of the Nation, but rather an essential, life-giving foundation of Clal Yisrael. Rabbi Kook emphasized that the future of the Jewish People depends not on strengthening the Diaspora, but rather on strengthening our connection to Eretz Yisrael. In this second essay, Rabbi Kook explains in greater depth how an alienation from the secrets of Torah causes a distortion in our comprehension of Judaism and a crisis in Jewish life. He writes:

“By being alienated from the recognition of the secrets of Torah, the Kedusha (holiness) of Eretz Yisrael is understood in a foggy, unfocused fashion.”

The secrets of Torah which Rabbi Kook refers to are the deep Kabbalistic understandings which chart the inner spiritual blueprint of the Jewish Nation. We are not speaking here about the Tree of Kabbalah which can be found illustrated in popular books on the subject. While this metaphor for the Sefirot, or differing levels of God’s manifestation in the world, is a central understanding of Kabbalah, many other secrets of Torah appear throughout the Aggadah, and the Midrashim of our Sages. Works of wisdom such as the Zohar are the esoteric understandings of these writings. Rabbi Kook’s great genius was in applying this tradition of knowledge toward understanding the development of the Jewish People in our times. His writings illuminate the inner workings of the National Israeli Soul as it awakens to Redemption and physical expression in the rebuilding of the Nation in Eretz Yisrael. The book, Orot, is in effect a deep esoteric study of these themes.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/felafel-on-rye/why-should-i-live-in-israel-america-has-everything-i-need/2012/05/23/

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