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Ask the Rabbi
News & Call-In with Tamar Yonah
Before making Aliyah to Israel, Tzvi Fishman was a Hollywood screenwriter. He has co-authored 4 books with Rabbi David Samson, based on the teachings of Rabbi Kook, Eretz Yisrael, Art of T'shuva, War and Peace, and Torat Eretz Yisrael.
Dear Reader, if you are looking to be happy, and in harmony with yourself, with G-d, and with the universe, the answer is t’shuva.
Since the new month of Elul is the month of t’shuva, let’s take another look at the meaning of t’shuva.
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 G-d, 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....” (Orot HaT’shuva, 15:10).
One can readily understand that to reach fulfillment and happiness, a person must be true to himself. 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 under the supposed justification of “This is who I am.”
I remember how unhappy I was when I was living in LA. Yes, I had a nice sports car, money, membership in a sports club filled with beautiful people, but I felt miserable and empty inside. A terrible anxiety followed me wherever I went. Even though I was surrounded by people, I was so looooooooooooooonely and confused. Another bar, another disco, another joint, another stranger, don’t you just love them when they’re going out the door?
Why wasn’t I happy? After all, I had all the good things in life. What was missing?
After a long and painful quest back back back back through layers and layers of disguises and deceits, back back back to WHO I REALLY WAS, back to G-d and to Torah, I realized that up till that exhilarating, ecstatic, mind-blowing return to my soul, I had been living a lie, the BIG AMERICAN LIE, squeezing myself into the straitjacket of trying to turn myself into a Hollywood poster boys, doing everything I could to hide my Jewishness in order to fit in and be like everyone else.
Of course I was screwed up and miserable in America. I was desperately trying to be somebody who I wasn’t. I was living in a land where I didn’t belong, trying to mold myself into a perverse and empty culture, speaking someone else’s language, wearing other people’s clothes, trying to squeeze my face into the face of James Dean.
It is no secret that there is great darkness, confusion, and pain in the world. Diaspora 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 dissatisfaction and constant unrest. Psychiatrists and psychologists 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, pick-up bars, computer games, Internet pornography, discos, and drugs which people use to blot out the never ending angst that they feel.
Rabbi Kook understands all of this darkness and anguish. He sees its source not in external causes, nor in the traumas of childhood. He looks beyond social, cultural, psychological, and family dynamics to shed spiritual light on the world’s confusion and pain.
“What is the cause of melancholy?” he asks. “The answer is the over abundance of evil deeds, evil character traits, and evil beliefs on the soul. The soul’s deep sensitivity feels the bitterness which these cause, and it draws back, frightened and depressed” (Orot HaT’shuva, 14:6).
T’shuva comes to light up the soul and transforms depression into joy.
My dear friends, the remedy from unhappiness, pornography addition, lonely nights wasted on the Internet, homosexuality, arrogance, personal frustration, anger, and living in places and cultures where you simply do not belong is t’shuva.
This month of Elul, may we all merit to return in complete t’shuva, to ourselves, to the Torah, to the Land of Israel, and to G-d. Amen.