Since today, the third of Elul, is the yahrtzeit of Rabbi Kook, we are posting some selections from his writings on t’shuva. Rabbi Kook was probably THE master teacher of our times, possessing an all-encompassing understanding and vision of Torah that raises Judaism far above the individual practice of ritual commandments to a cosmic revolutionary movement chartered with the task of bringing the world to perfection via the return of the Jewish People to a life of Torah in Eretz Yisrael.
The book which I had the great privilege of writing with Rabbi David Samson, “The Art of T’shuva,” explains Rabbi Kook’s teachings in a clear and simple fashion, and certainly deserves to be a part of every Jewish library. The power of Rabbi Kook’s vision is so great, it is certain to inspire every reader to an incredibly new understanding of Judaism and to deepen each person’s understanding of who he is as a Jew and what is his ultimate mission in life. Here, we will present a small sample Rabbi Kook’s teachings on t’shuva, keeping our commentary to a minimum, while encouraging all seekers of G-d to order the book for a complete overview of this vast and supremely vital subject.
“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....”
“All of our t’shuva will only succeed if it will be, along with its spiritual splendor, also a physical t’shuva which produces healthy blood, healthy flesh, firm, mighty bodies, and a flaming spirit spreading over powerful muscles. Through the power of the sanctified flesh, the weakened soul will shine forth — like the dead’s physical resurrection.”
“Sudden t’shuva results from a spiritual bolt of illumination which enters the soul. All at once, the person recognizes the ugliness and evil of sin, and he is transformed into a new being. Already, he feels within himself a total change for the good. This type of t’shuva derives from a certain unique inner power of the soul, from some great spiritual influence whose ways are best sought in the depths of life’s mysteries.”
“There is also a gradual type of t’shuva. The change from the depths of sin to goodness is not inspired by a brilliant flash of light in one’s inner self, but by the feeling that one’s ways and lifestyle, one’s desires, and thought processes must be improved. When a person follows this path, he gradually straightens his ways, mends his character traits, improves his deeds, and teaches himself how to correct his life more and more, until he reaches the high level of refinement and perfection.”
“From out of this psychic bitterness, t’shuva comes as a healing plaster from an expert physician. The feeling of t’shuva — with a deep insight into its working and its deep foundation in the recesses of the soul, in the hidden realms of nature, in all the chambers of Torah, faith and tradition — with all of its power, comes and streams into his soul. A mighty confidence in its healing, the encompassing rebirth which t’shuva affords to all who cling to it, surrounds the person with a spirit of grace and mercy. Like a man is comforted by his mother, so I shall comfort you.”
We see that in his writings, Rabbi Kook illuminates the phenomenon of t’shuva in an entirely new fashion. Here we encounter the notion of t’shuva, not as personal penitence alone, but as an ever-active force in the world which constantly works to unite all things with G-d.
“The currents of specific and general t’shuva flood along. They resemble waves of flames on the surface of the sun, which break free and ascend in a never-ending struggle, granting life to numerous worlds and numberless creatures. It is impossible to grasp the multitude of colors of this great sun that lights all worlds, the sun of t’shuva, because of their abundance and wondrous speed, because they emanate from the Source of life itself....”
Once we understand that the goal of existence is to be reunited with G-d, and that the force of t’shuva is at work all of the time, we can understand that the t’shuva of the individual over specific sins, and the encompassing t’shuva of the world longing for perfection, all stem from the same essential drive, as Rabbi Kook writes:
“General t’shuva, which is the uplifting of the world to perfection; and specific t’shuva, which relates to the particular personality of each individual, including the smallest items needing improvement in all of their details... they are both of one essence. So too, all of the cultural reforms which lift the world out of moral decay, along with social and economic advancements, and the mending of all transgression... all of them comprise a single entity, and are not detached one from the other.”
“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.”
“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.”
“The abandonment and rebellion against the commandments of G-d is a terrible moral regression, which only seizes a man through his frightening immersion in the vulgarity of material life. It is possible that for a time, a generation, or a part of it, in one place or another, will become entangled in the thicket of moral blindness, to the point that it won’t sense at all the ethical descent inherent in the abandonment of the laws of G-d. But the Divine law does not lose its value because of this. T’shuva is determined to come and to be revealed. For the sickness of forgetting the Divine world cannot hold a permanent place in man’s nature. Like a polluted spring, it returns to its purity.”
“The future will reveal the miracle of the power of t’shuva, and this revelation will capture the whole world with an incredible fervor, far greater than all of the wonders which the world is accustomed to see in all of the realms of life and existence. And this new revelation will captivate every heart with its wonder, and its spirit will influence all people. Then the world will rise to its true rebirth. Sin will cease, the spirit of impurity will be consumed as if burned, and evil will vanish like smoke.”
“The Jewish People, because of their enhanced spiritual nature, will be the first nation in the world to do t’shuva. The special spirit of t’shuva will initially be revealed in this portion of humanity. Israel is propelled from within to be united with G-d’s light in the world, which is free of transgression and wrongdoing. Every falling away (from its connection to G-d) blemishes the wholeness of its inner perfection, yet in the end, its powerful life-force will triumph over the deviation, and it will return to complete health. This complete health will start to invigorate (the nation) with great strength and the light of t’shuva will shine within her first. Afterward, Israel will be the special channel to spread life’s inner yearning for t’shuva to all the world, to lighten the world’s darkness and elevate its stature.”
Rabbi Kook teaches that even in the return of the non- religious Zionists to Israel there is a profound holy core. The inner source of their desire to return is the Divine Ideal itself. With time, it will surely be awakened. This great transformation may take fifty years. It may take one hundred. We need to remember that after nearly two-thousand years in exile, a few generations is like the blink of an eye. The important thing to know is that the t’shuva of the nation is sure to come.
“The awakened yearning of the Jewish people as a whole to return to their Land, to their roots, to their spirit and way of life — truthfully, there is the light of t’shuva in this.”
“Without question, the light of Mashiach and the salvation of Israel, the rebirth of the nation and the Land, the revival of its language and literature — all stem from the source of t’shuva, and out of the depths to the heights of the highest t’shuva, everything will be brought.”
The return of a scattered people to its Land is no simple matter. Because of the magnitude of the undertaking, there are numerous problems. Nonetheless, Rabbi Kook assures us that our inner longing for G-d will overcome all of the barriers. Even the brazen secularism, which seems so contrary to the nation’s holiest goals, will become a powerful vessel bursting with Torah.
“Out of the profane, holiness will also come forth, and out of wanton freedom, the beloved yoke (of Torah) will blossom. Golden chains will be woven and arise out of secular poetry, and a brilliant light of t’shuva will shine from secular literature. This will be the supreme wonder of the vision of redemption. Let the bud sprout, let the flower blossom, let the fruit ripen, and the whole world will know that the Spirit of G-d is speaking within the nation of Israel in its every expression. All of this will climax in a t’shuva which will bring healing and redemption to the world.”
May the memory of Rabbi Kook and his teachings be a blessing for the Jewish People and the world.