Rabbi Kook’s book “Orot Hateshuva” is deep and panoramic study of the phenomenon of teshuva which he reveals is far more world-impacting than its common meaning of repentance over misdeeds. He begins by illuminating the stages and challenges of teshuva as experienced by an individual and then turns his all-encompassing gaze on the teshuva of the Israelite Nation as a whole.
The teshuva of the Jewish People includes a return to national sovereignty in Eretz Yisrael and a return to Torah. The holy Nation living a holy life of Torah in the Holy Land is the combination that spreads the light of G-d to all of the world.
What will this new, Baal Teshuva Nation be like? What will be its character, its principles, its culture? What will be its aspirations and goals? First we have to know who we are destined to be and then we can guide our lives to be in line with our Nation’s highest ideals.
Truth, Justice, and the Israelite Way
Remember Superman? The champion of “truth, justice, and the American way.” Today, at least for a grown-up, it is obvious that the American way is not one of justice, nor truth. However, as long as American culture dominates modern civilization, the world has to live with this myth. In the future, the real Superman will be found — the Nation of Israel — championing truth, justice, and the Israelite Way.
What is the Israelite Way? Torah. In the past, with the giving of the Torah at Sinai, the Nation of Israel brought the concepts of morality and Divine justice to a barbaric world. So too in the future, the People of the Book will once again educate the rest of mankind. This is our national calling.
Rabbi Kook writes: “The apex of the nation’s soul is the yearning for universal good. The striving for it is built into the essence of its being, and this influences all of existence. The highest concept of teshuva is imbedded in this exalted hidden source” (Orot HaT’shuva 4:6).
Rabbi Kook tells us that the essence of Israel’s soul is the yearning for universal morality. This can be seen throughout Jewish history. Not only were we the first nation to uproot idol worship from the world, the Jewish people gave mankind a detailed code of law by which to live, based on the principle of justice. Jewish law and ethics cover all aspects of human endeavor, from property rights, civil law, damages, claims, marriage, employment, inheritance, trusteeship, laws of witnesses, and the like.
These laws, and the moral codes which stem from them, became the foundations of Western Civilization. The striving for justice is rooted in the Israeli soul. The Torah gives it its outward expression. It takes Israel’s potential and actualizes it in life. But even when the Jewish People are not keeping the Torah, G-d forbid, just their presence in the world reminds mankind of the standards of morality and justice which the Nation of Israel gave birth to.
Connection to the Nation
“The (basis of the) soul of the Jewish Nation is absolute justice, which to be achieved demands the moral perfection of everything in the world. Thus, every moral blemish on the part of an individual Jew weakens his connection to the Nation. The primary, fundamental teshuva is to attach oneself to the soul of the people. With this, it is necessary to correct all of one’s deeds, according to the essence of the nation’s soul” (Ibid 4:7).
A Jew is much more than an individual. He is attached with a living link to the Israelite Nation as a whole. Beyond his own private existence, he is bound up with the life of the Nation, or Clal. Thus, Rabbi Kook teaches, the primary teshuva for a Jew is to bind himself to the soul of the entire community of Israel (Knesset Yisrael), which means putting his own personal life in line with the high moral strivings of the Nation.
"An individual cannot be connected to the root of the Jewish Nation unless his soul has been purified through teshuva of its coarse, human behavior and degenerate moral traits, or unless his soul is pure from the outset. For the fundamental character of the Jewish Nation is the desire that the highest standard of justice, the justice of G-d, will be established in the world… Whoever has been blemished by any kind of transgression, to the extent of the blemish, the will for justice and goodness will not function within him in a wholehearted fashion. Thus, he will not be truly attached with the national character of the Jewish People until the blemish has been erased” (Ibid 13:1).
“To remove the barriers which prevent the perfection of a Jewish person’s character, it is necessary to do away with every concrete obstruction which darkens the Jewish soul. This goal demands complete t’shuva for all of the specific acts of misconduct and sin, on the basis of the Written and Oral Law, all of which embody the Divine soul of the Jew” (Ibid 13:3).
Rabbi Kook teaches that in order to reach the high level of personal perfection where an individual truly yearns for universal justice, he must bind himself with the soul of the Jewish Nation. This can only be achieved if he cleanses himself from all transgression, not in a vague, general manner, but in a comprehensive spiritual overhaul based on all the fine tunings of Jewish law. To attain the high level a person must rise above his focus on himself and forge a strong attachment with the Jewish Nation as a whole.
“A Jew must be united with the Divine good in the soul of the Nation of Israel, and this will assist him in doing teshuva. Otherwise, he will be faced with his failings and sins which arise from his alienation from the Nation of G-d, which is the root of his being, and the source of all the good within him” (Orot HaT’shuva 13:3).
When a Jew attaches himself to the soul of the Nation, he plugs himself into a powerhouse of goodness. By identifying with the Jewish People, by getting involved in Jewish causes, by going to synagogue, by being interested in what’s happening in Israel, by simply learning Hebrew, or by undertaking the ultimate attachment of Aliyah, he becomes a better and more complete person. No matter what his station in life, he can feel good that he is a Jew. “I am a Jew, and I’m proud to be a part of the Jewish NATION,” should be his feeling every morning.
Thus, there are two paths to becoming a champion of justice and truth. One can either first correct all of his wrongdoings and personal blemishes and then form an attachment to the ideals of the Nation; or a person can attach himself to the ideals of the Nation and subsequently bring his behavior into line with the Torah’s precise code of laws.
Should it arise in the mind that in cleaving to the soul of the Nation, one will also be attaching oneself with the sinners of Israel, Rabbi Kook explains that this is not so:
“He should not hesitate to attach himself with the soul of the Nation, even though there are evil and base individuals within it. This does not lessen in any manner the Divine light of good in the Nation as a whole — for even in the lowest sinners of Israel, there is a spark of the Divine. Since the Nation of Israel embodies the Divine good, not only for itself, but for the whole world and all of existence, by connecting himself firmly with the soul of the Nation, he will come to attach himself to the living G-d and be in harmony with the Divine blessing which fills all of life. The light of G-d will then surround him in all of its splendor and power.”
Teshuva is the Message
Just as American materialism dominates world culture today, in the future, Israel’s yearning for morality and universal justice will spread to the ends of the globe. Emulating the Jews, people will strive to be good. Everyone will want to serve G-d. Enlightened by the message of teshuva, everyone will want to be blessed like the Jews, as it says, “It shall come to pass, that ten men out of all of the languages of the nations shall take hold and seize the garment of a Jew, saying: We will go with you, for we have heard that G-d is with you” (Zacharia 8:23).