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Rabbi Kook on T'shuva

By Tzvi Fishman
8/30/2009, 12:00 AM

Every month of Elul, I try to read over Rabbi’s Kook’s book, “Orot HaT’shuva,” which explores the phenomena of individual, national, and cosmic t’shuva (repentance), all in Rabbi’s Kook’s unparalleled style and Torah brilliance.

I had the great merit to co-write a commentary on “Orot HaT’shuva” with the noted Torah educator, Rabbi David Samson. Our book is called “The Art of T’shuva.” Condensed chapters of the book can be found online for everyone looking for a refreshing guide to repentance, and to enhance his familiarity with Rabbi Kook’s writings in English.

In the next few blogs, we will present another chapter from “The Art of T’shuva,” explaining Rabbi Kook’s teachings on the connection between repentance and Eretz Yisrael.

 Rabbi Kook teaches that t’shuva encompasses far more than personal repentance. The ever-streaming waves of t’shuva influence the world in its entirety, lifting it toward perfection. It is the Nation of Israel who will lead mankind to world repentance, when all the world will come to recognize G-d and His chosen Nation, Israel.

This is all well and good. But what will bring the Jewish People to t’shuva? What will awaken the Divine voice in our national soul? What will cause the scattered, exiled Jewish Nation to return to the glorious days of our past – in fulfillment of our prayers and the words of our Prophets?

Rabbi Kook writes that the rebirth of the Jewish nation in Eretz Yisrael is the foundation for the ultimate t’shuva, both for the Nation of Israel, and for the whole world (Orot HaT’shuva, 17:1).


To understand this concept fully, one must understand the incomparable holiness of the Land of Israel (Eretz Yisrael) and its importance to the nation of Israel. While it is beyond the scope of this blog to explore this subject in depth, we will mention a few of the things which point to the unique connection between the Jewish People and their Land.

The Jewish People possess true national vitality only in the Land of Israel (Isaiah, 42:5). Outside of the Land, Jews can excel as individuals in all fields of endeavor, but the light of G-d cannot appear in a national format. Only in the Land of Israel can the Jews be a KINGDOM of priests and a holy NATION (Shemot, 19:6). The Zohar emphasizes that the Jews can be a nation only in Israel, and not outside of it (Zohar, Vayikra, 93B). Prophecies of redemption all involve the return of the Jewish People to the Land of Israel and the restoration of Jewish sovereignty over the Land (Ezekiel, 37:21-22). The Jewish People’s unique prophetic talent is dependent on being in the Land of Israel (Kuzari, 2:8-24). The Temple can only be rebuilt in Jerusalem, and the full revelation of G-d’s Presence is exclusive to Eretz Yisrael, as the prophet teaches, “For Torah will go forth from Zion, and the word of the L-rd from Jerusalem” (Isaiah, 2:3).

In a letter, Rabbi Kook writes:

“The source of the moral baseness which continues to darken the world stems from the lack of recognition regarding the value and wisdom of the Land of Israel. Thus the sin of the Spies, who spoke derogatorily about the pleasant Land, remains uncorrected. To rectify this, the Land’s praise, splendor, holiness, and honor must be declared to all the world” (Letters, Vol.1, Pgs. 112-113).

While Rabbi Kook emphasizes that the t’shuva of the Jewish People and a return to the Torah go hand-in-hand, he indicates that a preliminary stage of national revival will bring this spiritual awakening to pass. First, the Jewish people must return to Zion to rebuild their homeland. Once the physical body that houses the nation is built, then the revitalized Jewish soul will yearn for spiritual completion as well, and our people will flock back to the Torah.


The concept of t’shuva means to return. Suppose a man is expelled from his house by thieves. The wrongdoing will only be corrected when the owner returns to repossess his house. The same is true for the Jewish People as a whole.

For the world to reach perfection, G-d decreed that the Jewish People must live a life of Torah in Israel. G-d’s first commandment to Abraham is to go to the Land of Israel in order to serve G-d in the most complete way (Bereshit, 12:1). Afterwards, G-d commands Moshe to bring the Jews out from Egypt to Eretz Yisrael. Over and over, the Torah repeats that the Jewish people are to live their unique Torah life in Israel. When the holy Jewish Nation lives a holy life of Torah in the Holy Land, the vessel is formed to bring the light of G-d to the world. The Nation of Israel becomes an international beacon, an example and light to all of the nations in the world (Isaiah, 42:6).

At the time of the Second Temple, when we failed to uphold the high moral standard demanded of us by the Torah, we were punished and exiled from the Land. G-d’s worldly vessel was shattered. Israel was conquered, Jerusalem was razed, the Land was laid waste. G-d’s chosen people were scattered and debased. Like the Jews, G-d’s Presence went into exile. His light in the world became hidden. In effect, mankind was cut off from G-d. Thus, to rectify this tragedy, and return the world to G-d, the Nation of Israel must return to their previous stature, including a national life in Israel, the only place in the world where the Torah can be observed in all of its wholeness, because of the many commandments unique to the Land.

Each Jew has a bit of the Shekhinah, or the Presence of G-d, within him. When a Jew returns to the Land of Israel, he is, in effect, bringing G-d back with him (Rashi, Devarim,30:3). This is the Kabbalistic concept of “raising up the buried sparks of holiness from the kelipot.” Since the soul of a Jew is infused with the light of the Shekhinah, when the Jewish people return en masse to Israel, the light of G-d in the world returns with them. The nations of the world see with their own eyes that the prophecies in the Bible are true.

A visual illustration will help us envision what Rabbi Kook is seeing when he looks at the awakened Zionist movement. It is a global vision, spanning all human history. To raise ourselves to a more encompassing perspective, imagine being in a satellite orbiting the earth. Down below, scattered all over the globe, are tiny, little lights. These lights are the Jews, scattered all over the world. Slowly, lights begin to travel to a certain point on the globe — the Land of Israel. More and more lights begin to congregate there. From all over the world, the scattered lights start to unite in Israel. Lights that do not make the journey begin to flicker and disappear. Soon, a great beacon of light is formed in Israel, sending out rays of light to all of the world. These rays are the lights of t’shuva, summoning mankind back to G-d, through the re-establishment of the People of G-d in their Land.

(To be continued)