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December 7, 2016 / 7 Kislev, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘T’Shuva’

Goodbye World, I’m Off to the Mountains!

Sunday, September 23rd, 2012

After analyzing the many different facets of t’shuva, Rabbi Kook explains what happens to a person who sets out on a path of return. The first thing we should know is that there are many barriers to t’shuva. To begin with, when someone is not accustomed to the sounds of holiness, his ears are blocked to t’shuva’s constant call.

Life’s inner moral demand calls out to man, “Turn back from your sins!” Sometimes this inner moral compunction begins as a soft echo barely audible in the conscience. Was it a voice? Did I hear someone calling? Little by little, it gains in volume and insistency until it thunders, SON OF MAN, RETURN FROM YOUREVIL WAYS!

Occasionally this voice calls out so loudly, it rings in a person’s ear wherever he goes. It won’t give him rest. “RETURN!” it calls out in the disco. “RETURN!” it calls out at the beach.  “Leave me alone!” the hounded soul cries out. No longer can he pretend not to listen. No longer can he remain in the chains of crass material existence with all of its vices and pulls.

At this point, Rabbi Kook says, a person must rise to a higher spiritual level in order to find inner peace. He must summon inner courage to face this spiritual crisis. Sometimes, however, the moral demands of t’shuva seem so great, a person despairs of ever being able to escape the clutches of sin. His transgressions, like thorns, pin him down on every side. Outside forces seem to control him. He sees no possible way of making amends.

Once again, Rabbi Kook offers hope by telling us that it is precisely from this point of despair that God’s mercy will shine. “A broken and contrite heart, O God, Thou will not despise” (Tehillim, 51:19).

Sometimes when a person has a passionate desire to do t’shuva, he longs to perfect everything all at once. Discovering a world of greater morality, he immediately wants to actualize it in life. A sudden spiritual illumination has raised him out of his darkness, and he wants all of his actions, thoughts, and character traits to be immediately on the same holy level. With all that needs to be corrected, he does not know where to begin. It is easier to contemplate a state of absolute morality than to achieve it in everyday life. The more t’shuva he does, the more he feels the gap between where he is and where he should be. Without a firm foundation in the realm of the holy, he can easily grow discouraged and lose his resolve to become a more moral person. As a result, people who begin learning about Judaism, and about their inner spiritual world, often put on the brakes in fear of experiencing further letdown in not being able to reach their ideals.

“If a person wants all of his inner sensitivities and powers to be instantly renewed in line with the spiritual elevation which he has discovered, and expects all of his immoral ways to be immediately straightened and perfected — he will lack inner stability, and he will not be able to fortify his will to follow the path to true perfection” (Orot HaT’shuva, 13:6).

The solution, Rabbi Kook says, is to do t’shuva in stages. First of all, one should console oneself with the knowledge that the very thought of t’shuva, the very desire to perfect the wrongs of one’s life, is t’shuva itself. This very understanding brings great inner correction in its wake. With this recognition, a person can feel more relaxed, feeling certain that the t’shuva process is already underway.

Next, a person must intensify the illumination of holiness within him. This is to be found in the study of Torah. As we have learned in our previous blog, the study of Torah strengthens the will to do t’shuva and refines character traits and modes of behavior. As the saying goes, “Where there is a will, there’s a way.”

After the will for t’shuva has been firmly established, the person is ready for the details of t’shuva. This stage has two aspects: t’shuva over behavior in the future, and t’shuva over transgressions in the past. Once again, the Torah provides the guidance and light. The Torah translates the ideal moral standards which the person has discovered into the details of day-to-day living. Rabbi Kook writes:

Tzvi Fishman

Madonna and Kabbalah Don’t Mix

Friday, September 21st, 2012

Today, we are going to examine the relationship between Torah and T’shuva. First, we must understand that Torah is not external, factual knowledge like the knowledge of science, mathematics, or linguistics. Torah is an inwardly-directed knowledge which has the power to influence and change a person, to refine a person’s sensitivities and to connect him to the holy, spiritual foundations of life.

The study of Torah is not a quantitative amassing of information and theories like other knowledges. It is a qualitative experience demanding both moral and intellectual involvement, and a desire to make Torah ideals an essential part of one’s character. When a person learns Torah and discovers the exalted harmony and goodness of Creation, his will is affected, stimulating a yearning for God. Because his will for goodness is enhanced, his desire for t’shuva is strengthened as well.

The Talmud teaches that God created the evil inclination and the Torah as its cure (Kiddushin 30B). Rabbi Kook explains this as meaning that a person’s will cannot be perfected except through the purifying influence of the Torah. The Torah strengthens the will and directs it towards holiness and goodness.

The more an individual learns Torah, especially the deeper wisdom of Torah, the more knowledgeable he becomes about his true spiritual nature and about the nature of his will. He comes to recognize that the entire world is Divinely inspired to attain a purer connection to God. This higher contemplation brings him to a higher level of t’shuva. Rabbi Kook writes:

“True, complete t’shuva demands lofty horizons of perception, in order to be raised to the resplendent world which abounds in holiness and truth. This can only be done by being immersed in the secrets of life found in Divine wisdom and the depths of the Torah. This necessitates physical cleansing and the purification of one’s traits as aids, so that the clouds of lust will not darken the intellect’s clarity. But the study of Torah must precede everything else, especially the study of the higher, supernal Torah, for it alone can shatter all of the iron barriers which separate the individual and the Nation from God” (Orot HaT’shuva, 10:1).

T’shuva and Torah go hand-in-hand. Like bees and honey, you can’t have one without the other. The more a person studies Torah, the more inspired he is to do t’shuva. Similarly, to the extent that a person purifies himself through t’shuva, his study of Torah is blessed and made more clear.

A person who is satisfied with a routine performance of the Torah’s commandments can get by with a minimum of t’shuva, but to enter into the deep, secret wellsprings of Torah, a person must be pure of all unholy influences. To reach this state of cleanliness, a great deal of t’shuva is required. The depth of a person’s t’shuva enables him to understand greater degrees of Torah, for the ability to understand Torah does not solely depend on one’s intellectual skills in clinically analyzing a passage of Talmud — the essence of Torah is when the person has internalized its profound moral concepts into his being, so much so that he yearns for them with all of his might. Only when a person has reached this level, when his will is so refined that it longs only for goodness, can he properly understand the deep secrets of Torah.

For this reason, people who profess to learn Kabbalah without doing t’shuva are not really learning at all. They study the formulas of mysticism, but the import of the teachings does not enter their hearts, for God only unravels the secrets of Torah to one who has prepared his soul to receive them. Rabbi Kook writes:

“It is obvious that it is impossible to learn the secrets of Torah without t’shuva. For in these great matters, the will and the intellect are united. When one understands these subjects with a mighty will for the good, one yearns for them and devises many general and specific strategies to obtain them. However, when sins form a barrier, the will is damaged, and since one cannot rise to the highest, innermost level of the will…wisdom cannot grow in him, and the channels of understanding the secrets of Torah are blocked” (Ibid, 10:8).

Simply put, if you want to understand the inner workings of existence, you have to clean up your act. Just like you cannot purify yourself in a ritual bath while holding a dead mouse in your hand, you cannot learn the secrets of Torah while you are living in sin.

Tzvi Fishman

Rocket Ship of T’shuva

Thursday, September 20th, 2012

We have learned that t’shuva is the force which makes the world go round. Just as gravity keeps us here on earth, t’shuva keeps us longing for the heavens. For the individual, the source of this force lies in his or her willpower. The will is the battery of t’shuva. For a person to be healthy, happy, and in harmony with the universe, his will must be freed from the bondage of sin and directed toward goodness and God.

We are not accustomed to thinking in terms of the will. In school we learn about many different subjects, we learn about different professions, we learn how to get along in the world. But we don’t learn very much about being good. Rabbi Kook, however, teaches that education should focus not on professional training alone, but on finding ways to direct all of man’s endeavors, both material and spiritual, toward the world’s general aspiration for goodness. He writes:

Pure honesty demands that all of the labor of science should be directed toward the fundamental ideal of enhancing man’s will with the ultimate goodness fitting to it, to refine the will, to strengthen it, to sanctify it, to purify it, to habituate it through educational channels to always strive for what is lofty and noble (Orot HaT’shuva, 15:2).

When, however, mankind strays from the proper course, and instead of striving to elevate the will, leaves it wallowing in its baseness, wanting only to satisfy the will’s lower passions, then humanity plunges into darkness, degeneracy, and idolatry.

Out of its depths, (mankind) will cry out to the God of truth and return to the holy goal of making the foundation of every activity the uplifting of the will…. This is the entire basis of t’shuva, the elevation of the will, transforming it to good, to rise up from darkness to light, from a valley of tribulation to a gateway of hope (Ibid).

Previously, we saw that t’shuva can come about gradually, or in a sudden powerful flash. Gradual t’shuva resembles any developmental, step-by-step process whereby one thing leads to another in a natural fashion like the growth of a tree, which progresses from the seed to the fruit in a slow, predictable process.

Sudden t’shuva is different. It seems to come about all at once with superhuman energy and willpower. Where does this great thrust of life energy come from? If we had spiritual glasses to analyze the process, what catalysts and forces would we see?

The longing for goodness that makes up a person’s willpower has a resiliency like that of a spring. Sin causes the will for goodness to be contracted, like a spring which is being stepped on. The further a person is caught up in sin, the tighter the spring is compressed. When a person frees himself from the shackles of sin, he is freeing his willpower to return to cleaving to God. Since his willpower was in such a constricted state, when it is released, it explodes with a super momentum and force, far greater than the force of gradual t’shuva. The sudden baal t’shuva has a magnificent outburst of will which propels him into a frenzy of spiritual endeavor. From the depth of his darkness, he discovers an incredible light, an incredible good_ ness. All at once, BOOM, he is turned on by God. His prayer, his Torah study, his good deeds are all filled with a fiery intensity and fervor for universal good.

It is this revitalized energy which makes the newly religious seem “born again.” This occurs because his willpower has been rescued and recharged. This accounts for the teaching that a tzaddik cannot reach the level of a baal t’shuva (Berachot 34B), for a tzaddik is motivated by the normal, step-by-step will to do good, and not by the explosive, shot-out-of-a-cannon passion of the baal t’shuva.

Because of its great power, Rabbi Kook warns that t’shuva, if misused, can become a lethal weapon. Like a surgical knife, t’shuva can be the key to new healthy life, or to self-destruction.

blockquote>When one contracts the will, when one represses the life-force through an inner course of abstaining from life’s pleasures out of the desire to avoid all transgression, a contraction of the will for goodness also occurs. The power of the moral side of life is also lessened. A man engaged in purifying his life suffers a weakness like that of a sick person who was cured by electric shock therapy, which wiped out the disease, but also weakened his healthy life-force (Orot HaT’shuva, 9:10).

Tzvi Fishman

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).

Tzvi Fishman

Cheeseburgers and T’shuva

Thursday, September 13th, 2012

In some of our previous blogs about t’shuva, we have mentioned the bitterness and pain that accompanies the early stages of the process. When people begin to enter the realm of t’shuva, they start to experience a fear, an uncertainty, an inner anguish and pain. While this unpleasant aspect of t’shuva is quickly overshadowed and forgotten in the baal t’shuva’s pursuant great joy, it is a necessary step in the process. Recognizing its value and purging effect can help the penitent weather the stormy seas he must travel. The knowledge that the sun is shining just behind the clouds can give him the strength to continue. In the same way that a woman soon forgets the agonies of childbirth in the happiness of being a mother, the baal t’shuva quickly forgets the “labor pains” of t’shuva in the great joy of his rebirth. Rabbi Kook writes:

“T’shuva does not come to embitter life, but rather to make it more pleasant. The joy of life which comes from t’shuva evolves from the waves of bitterness which the soul wrestles with in the beginning of the t’shuva process. However, this marks the higher, creative valor which knows that sweetness stems from bitterness, life from death, eternal delight from infirmity and pain” (Orot HaT’shuva, 16:6).

When you first swallow aspirin tablets, there is a small taste of bitterness in the mouth. So too, in the initial stages of t’shuva, the first explorations of one’s inner world can cause uncomfortable feelings. However, as one continues on the path of inner cleansing, one discovers a great happiness in knowing that he is doing exactly what he was created to do — to get closer to G-d.

The process is not that at first you are sad and then you are happy. Rabbi Kook teaches that you are happy from being sad. It is the bitterness itself that causes the joy. One’s suffering makes one realize that the t’shuva is sincere.

Some people are overwhelmed by the mountain of sin which seems to confront them as they begin to set their lives in order. How can they deal with so many transgressions? How can they ever make the drastic changes needed to live a holy, ethical life? Rabbi Kook reassures us that this feeling of nervousness is a very good sign. It is a sign that the person has already broken free of his previous material perspective and is ready to consider a more spiritual life.

In the same way, Rabbi Kook tells us that if you are hurting inside, that is a sign of spiritual health. It’s a sign that your inner self recognizes that it does not belong to an environment of sin. Feeling pain over the sins of the past is an important part of the t’shuva process. It goes hand-in-hand with a commitment to a life of good deeds in the future.

The pain and anxiety associated with the first thoughts of t’shuva evolve, in part, from the need to separate from former ways. Just as an operation to remove a cancerous tumor from the body is accompanied by pain, so too is t’shuva. However, the pain is a sign that a healing process is underway. An amputation hurts, but sometimes it is needed to save a person’s life. Before the operation, the patient is wary. His leg may be gangrene, but it still is his leg. What will he be like without it? Will he be the same man? How will he function?

These are all natural, legitimate, and very distressing questions. The unknown can be scary. So too, when a person has become used to a part of his psyche, even if it be some negative trait which is detrimental to his inner well-being, it is not easy to escape from its clutches. Already it has become a citizen of his soul. Breaking away from the past and being open to change is not a simple task. Great inner courage is needed. Often, it can only be done with the help of a teacher or guide. In effect, in unveiling the step-by-step process of t’shuva, Rabbi Kook is giving us a map to assist us on the way.

“The pain experienced upon the initial thought of t’shuva derives from the severance from evil dispositions which cannot be corrected while they are organically attached to the person and damaging all of his being. T’shuva uproots the evil aspects of the spirit and returns it to its original essence. Every separation causes pain, like the amputation of a diseased organ for medical purposes. However, it is through these deep inner afflictions that a person is freed from the dark bondage of his sins and base inclinations, and from all of their bitter influences” (Ibid, 8:1).

Tzvi Fishman

Be Happy, Now!

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012

As we explained in the previous blog, people tend to place more value on the final achievement of a goal, rather than on the endeavor itself. For instance, many people focus on getting their salaries at the end of the week, rather than on their actual work. How happy they feel when the work week is over and they have their paychecks in hand! For them, their work is merely a means toward receiving their money. This phenomenon is known to cause anxiety and even depression on the job. It can even lead to accidents, when a worker, daydreaming about the future, stops paying attention to what he is doing.

If a person approaches t’shuva with this attitude, he will always focus on his shortcomings and sin, and not on his yearning and efforts to redress them. As the saying teaches, one should not focus on the half of the glass that is empty, but rather on the half which is full. Not understanding that his efforts to improve are what matter, and not the idealized vision of himself which he has not as yet achieved, he will always feel anxious, unfulfilled and forlorn.

Rabbi Kook explains that this misplacing of priorities between the means and the goal stems from the sin of the earth during the days of Creation. By understanding the depth of this teaching, we can learn to be happy, not only when we finally attain our goals and ideals, but also at every moment of our lives.

When G-d curses Eve, the snake, and Adam, in the story of Creation, the earth is cursed with them, as it says, “The earth shall be cursed on your account” (Bereshit, 3:17). The Midrash asks why? Rabbi Yehuda Bar Shalom answers that the earth transgressed God’s command that the ground should give forth fruit trees which are fruit — not only was the fruit to be edible, the bark of the tree was supposed to be edible too, with the same taste as the fruit. The earth, however, brought forth trees which produced only edible fruit. The bark itself was tasteless (Bereshit Rabbah, 5:9).

Rabbi Kook writes:

At the beginning of Creation, the taste of the tree was supposed to have the same taste as the fruit. All of the means which are needed to sustain any lofty, all-encompassing spiritual goal, should rightly be experienced in the soul with the same exalted pleasantness which we feel when we picture the goal itself. However, the laws of nature, along with the instability of human life, and the heaviness of the spirit when it is enclosed in a physical body, caused that only the taste of the fruit — the actualization of the final, original, ideal goal — is experienced as pleasant and sweet. The trees which produce the fruit, though they be indispensable in the growth of the fruit, have become hard, solid matter, losing their taste. This is the sin of the earth, for which it was cursed along with Adam. But every blemish is destined to be perfected. Thus we are assured, without doubt, that the time will come when the world will return to its original state, when the taste of the tree will be the same as the taste of the fruit. For the earth will return from its sin, and the necessities of practical life will no longer restrict the pleasantness of the ideal light, which is supported and brought into being by these preliminary, practical means (Orot HaTshuva, 6:7).

How is the gulf between means and the goal, between the imperfect and the ideal, to be bridged? Through t’shuva. What will cause all of the details of human endeavor and the final building to merge in pleasant harmony? T’shuva. The light of t’shuva penetrates all of the details of life, all of the stages of mending and repair, and fills them all with the taste of the final ideal.

The discrepancy in taste between the fruit of the tree and the bark represents a vast, cosmic concept. Originally, God intended that everything in the world would be perceived in the same deep, inner light. According to the intended plan, people would have experienced every moment with the same joy as the final goal. They would have understood that the means are as important as the ideal, that all of the incompleteness and detailed work which go into achieving something are a part of the whole. With the sin of the earth, mankind lost the ability to appreciate the small things in life. People talk about the ideal future, about world peace, about universal equality, saving the environment, and the like, but the housekeeper’s boycott against ozone- destroying aerosol cans is seen as something less grand. On the contrary, what joy and sense of accomplishment she should feel knowing that she is making the world a better place!

Tzvi Fishman

Don’t Worry! Be Happy!

Monday, September 10th, 2012

Amongst the many eye-opening revelations on t’shuva in Rabbi Kook’s writings, one concept is especially staggering in its profundity. Usually, we think that a process is completed when it reaches its end. We experience a feeling of satisfaction when we finish a project. An underlying tension often accompanies our work until it is accomplished. This is because the final goal is considered more important than the means.

Most people feel the same way about t’shuva. Until the process of t’shuva is complete, they feel unhappy, anxious, overwhelmed with the wrongdoings which they have been unable to redress. Rabbi Kook tells us that this perspective is wrong. When it comes to t’shuva, the goal is not the most important thing. It is the means which counts. What matters the most is the striving for perfection, for the striving for perfection is perfection itself. He writes:

If not for the contemplation of t’shuva, and the comfort and security which come with it, a person would be unable to find rest, and spiritual life could not develop in the world. Man’s moral sense demands justice, goodness, and perfection. Yet how very distant is moral perfection from man’s actualization, and how feeble he is in directing his behavior toward the pure ideal of absolute justice. How can he aspire to that which is beyond his reach? For this, t’shuva comes as a part of man’s nature. It is t’shuva which perfects him. If a man is constantly prone to transgress, and to have difficulties in maintaining just and moral ideals, this does not blemish his perfection, since the principle foundation of his perfection is the constant longing and desire for perfection. This yearning is the foundation of t’shuva, which constantly orchestrates man’s path in life and truly perfects him” (Orot Ha’Tshuva, 5:6. The Art of T’shuva, Ch.5).

Dear reader, please note: if you are not yet a tzaddik, you need not be depressed. Success in t’shuva is not measured by the final score at the end of the game. It is measured by the playing. The striving for good is goodness itself. The striving for atonement is atonement. The striving for perfection is what perfects, in and of itself.

King Solomon teaches that no man is free of sin: “For there is not a just man on earth that does good and never sins” (Kohelet, 7:20). Transgression is part of the fabric of life. Since we are a part of this world, we too are subject to “system failure” or sin.  Even the righteous occasionally succumb to temptation. Thus, until the days of Mashiach, an ideal, sinless existence is out of man’s reach.

An illustration may help make this concept clearer. On Yom Kippur, we are like angels. We don’t eat, we don’t drink. All day long we pray for atonement from all of our sins. At the end of the day, with the final blast of the shofar, we are cleansed. But in the very next moment, as we pray the evening service, we once again ask God to forgive us. Forgive us for what? The whole day we have acted like angels. Our sins were whitened as snow. In the few seconds between the end of Yom Kippur and the evening prayer, what sin did we do? Maybe at the beginning of the evening prayer, exhausted by the fast, we didn’t concentrate on our words. Maybe our prayers on Yom Kippur were half-hearted, as if repeating last year’s cassette. Maybe, we forgot to ask forgiveness for some of our sins.

The point is that the process of t’shuva never ends. Perfection in deeds is out of human reach. Thus, when a goal is unattainable, it is the striving to reach the goal that counts. Regarding t’shuva, it is the constant striving for t’shuva which purifies, enlightens, elevates, and perfects. So relax all you seekers of t’shuva. Even if you haven’t yet atoned for all of your sins, Don’t worry! Be Happy! As long as you are sincerely trying, this is what really counts.

Tzvi Fishman

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