Homeward Bound
Homeward Bound

In his book, “The Lights of Teshuva,” Rabbi Kook explains that the phenomenon of teshuva, a word whose root meand "to return",  encompasses far more than personal repentance. Never-ending waves of teshuva affect the world in its entirety, lifting it toward perfection.

In the panoramic sweep of history, from the expulsion of Man from the Garden of Eden to mankind’s ultimate return to God, it is the Nation of Israel who will lead the world to Redemption, marching in front of the parade of nations with its mighty shofars blaring away.


This is all well and good. But what will bring the Jewish People to real teshuva? What will awaken the Divine Voice in its soul? What causes the scattered, exiled Jewish Nation to return, as we beseech God in our prayers, to the glorious days of our past?

Rabbi Kook writes that the rebirth of the Jewish Nation in Eretz Yisrael is the foundation for the ultimate teshuva, both for the nation of Israel, and for the whole world.  

To understand this concept fully, one must understand the incomparable holiness of Eretz Yisrael and its importance to the Nation of Israel. While it is beyond the scope of this essay 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. Outside of the Land, Jews can excel as individuals in all fields of endeavor; there can be great Torah scholars, but the light of God cannot appear in a national format. Only in the Land of Israel can the Jews be a "Kingdom of priests and a holy Nation."

The Zohar emphasizes that the Jews can be a Nation only in Israel, and not outside of it, where we are compared to dry and scattered bones. 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. The Jewish People’s unique prophetic talent is dependent on being in the Land of Israel. The Temple can only be rebuilt on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, and the full revelation of God’s Presence is exclusive to Eretz Yisrael, as the prophet teaches, “For Torah will go forth from Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.”

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 the world,” (Letters, Vol.1, Pgs. 112-113).

While Rabbi Kook emphasizes that the teshuva of the Jewish People and a return to the Torah go hand-in-hand, he indicates that a preliminary stage of secular 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.

This may take several generations, but this national teshuva is destined to come to pass. Indeed, today in Israel, new heders, yeshivas, Torah seminars for girls, and pre-army Torah programs are being established all over the country and more and more people seek to study Judaism.

We shall try to explain the cosmic necessity for the Jewish People to their Homeland in a simple manner. We have mentioned that the concept of

Over and over, the Torah repeats that the Jewish People are to live their unique Torah life in Israel.
teshuva 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.

For the world to reach perfection, God decreed that the Jewish People must live a life of Torah in Israel. God’s first commandment to Abraham is to go to the Land of Israel in order to serve God in the most complete way. Afterwards, God 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 God into the world. The Nation of Israel becomes an international beacon, an example and light to all of the nations in the world (Yisheyahu, 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. God’s worldly vessel was shattered. Israel was conquered, Jerusalem was razed, the Land was laid waste. God’s chosen people were scattered and debased. Like the Jews, God’s Presence went into exile. His light in the world became hidden. In effect, mankind was cut off from God. False religions rose upon the stage of world history, spreading darkness all over the globe. Thus to rectify this tragedy and return the world to God, the Jewish People 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 Shechinah, or the Presence of God, within him. When a Jew returns to the Land of Israel, he is, in effect, bringing God back with him (See Rashi, Devarim, 30:3). This is the Kabbalistic concept of “raising up the buried sparks of holiness from the husks.” Since the soul of a Jew is infused with the light of the Shechinah (Divine Presence), when the Jewish People return en masse to Israel, the light of God in the world returns with them. It is precisely this great spiritual light that the nations of the world seek to suppress.

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 Zion. 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 teshuva, summoning mankind back to God. Now that Yom Kippur is over, to make our teshuva complete, it isn’t enough to return to God in Brooklyn, Beverly Hills, or Melbourne, Australia.

If we really want "to return," the Jewish People have to return to the Land of Israel.