The Heroes of T'shuva
If there was a guaranteed deal that by shelling out 15 dollars, you would get 15 million dollars in return, would you do it? Of course you would. Well, that’s exactly what I’m offering you. For the 15 bucks it will cost to order the book, “The Art of T’shuva” explaining Rabbi Kook’s incomparable writings on t’shuva, you will be receiving a value of $15,000,000 in return. For those of you who think I’m making myself a bundle from book sales, all the profit I get is donated to charity, so you win on both counts. And if this isn’t enough of a gracious offer, I’m serializing a condensed version of the book, at tzvifishmanbooks.com, for free. I’ll be posting until Yom Kippur. So at least, share the link with your friends, and do them the priceless favor of turning them on to the lifesaving depth and beauty of t’shuva.
We learned that the joy of t’shuva comes from removing the barriers of transgression and melancholy which separate a person from God. Another reason why the joy of t’shuva is so great is because the happiness of t’shuva is felt in the soul. Until a person discovers t’shuva, he experiences the pleasures of the world on the physical, emotional, or intellectual levels alone. He enjoys good foods, stimulating books, new clothes and the like. But a man has a deeper, spiritual level of being, his soul, which derives no satisfaction from earthly pleasures.
“To what is this analogous? To the case of a city dweller who marries a princess. If he brought her all that the world possessed, it would mean nothing to her, by virtue of her being a king’s daughter. So it is with the soul. If it were brought all the delights of the world, they would be nothing to it, in view of its pertaining to the higher elements” (Mesillat Yesharim, Ch.1).
When a person does t’shuva, he opens his soul to a river of spiritual delight. The joy he discovers is like nothing which he has ever experienced. Not only are his senses affected, t’shuva touches his soul. Just as his soul is deeper than his other levels of being, the happiness he discovers is deeper. Just as his soul is eternal, his joy is eternal. Unlike the transitory pleasures of the physical world, the joy of t’shuva is everlasting. A jacuzzi feels good, but when it is over, the pleasure soon fades away. But in the heavenly jacuzzi of t’shuva, you don’t just get wet — you get cleansed and transformed. Thus, Rabbi Kook writes:
“When the light of t’shuva appears and the desire for goodness beats purely in the heart, a channel of happiness and joy is opened, and the soul is nurtured from a river of delights” (Orot HaT’shuva, 14:6).
This river of delight is the river of t’shuva. Rabbi Kook’s use of this expression is not metaphorical alone. In the spiritual world, there actually exists a river of t’shuva. (For the Kabbalists among you, it’s the wellsprings of Binah flowing to us through the now t’shuva-unclogged river of the Yesod). This is the constant flow of t’shuva which, though invisible, is always present and active. It is our channel to true joy and happiness because it is our channel to God. Nothing in the world can compare to its pleasures. Rabbi Kook explains:
“Great and exalted is the pleasure of t’shuva. The searing flame of the pain caused by sin purifies the will and refines the character of a person to an exalted, sparkling purity until the great joy of the life of t’shuva is opened for him. T’shuva raises the person higher and higher through its stages of bitterness, pleasantness, grieving, and joy. Nothing purges and purifies a person, raises him to the stature of being truly a man, like the profound process of t’shuva. In the place where the baale t’shuva stand, even the completely righteous cannot stand” (Berachot 34B. Orot HaT’shuva, 13:11).
The real hero is not the Hollywood tough guy. It isn’t the man who smokes Marlboro cigarettes. It isn’t the corporate president who owns a Lear jet and three yachts. The true man is the person involved in t’shuva. Rabbi Kook teaches, “The more a person delves into the essence of t’shuva, he will find in it the source of heroism” (Ibid, 12:2). This is similar to the teaching of our Sages, “Who is a hero? He who conquers his evil inclination” (Avot, 4:1). He is the person who is always seeking to better himself; the person who is always trying to come closer to God. He is the person who is open to self-assessment and change; the person who has the courage to confront his soul’s inner pain and to transform its bitterness into joy.
“T’shuva elevates a person above all of the baseness of the world. Notwithstanding, it does not alienate the person from the world. Rather, the baal t’shuva elevates life and the world with him” (Orot HaT’shuva, 12:1).
Sometimes, people have a misunderstanding of t’shuva. They think that t’shuva comes to separate a person from the world. While some baale t’shuva make a point of isolating themselves completely from secular society, this is not the ideal. During the early stages of t’shuva, a person should certainly avoid situations which are antithetical to his newfound goals, in order to rebuild his life on purer foundations, but a baal t’shuva is not a recluse. He should not cut himself off from the world. The opposite. By participating in the life around him, he elevates, not only himself, but also the world. After returning to God, he must return to the world. By doing so, he returns holiness to its proper place, and makes God’s Presence sovereign in the world. Rabbi Kook writes: “Tzaddikim should be natural people, and every aspect of their bodies and beings should be characterized by life and health. Then, through their spiritual greatness, they can elevate all of the world, and all things will rise up with them” (Arpelei Tohar, pf.16).
God created the heavens for the angels. Our lives are to be lived down on earth. It is our task to bring healing and perfection to this world, not to the next. When the powerful life-force which went into sin is redirected toward good, life is uplifted. A baal t’shuva who returns to a former situation in which he sinned, and now conducts himself in a righteous, holy manner, affects a great tikun. The Rambam writes: “For instance, if a man had sinful relations with a woman, and after a time was alone with her, his passion for her persisting, and his physical powers unabated, while he continued to live in the same district where he had sinned, and yet he refrains and does not transgress, he is a baal t’shuva” (Laws of T’shuva, 2:1). He is like a gunslinger who mends his ways and comes back to town to do away with the bad guys. Because of his t’shuva, Dodge City is a better, safer, more wholesome place.
“The inner forces which led him to sin are transformed. The powerful desire which smashes all borders and brought the person to sin, itself becomes a great, exalted life-force which acts to bring goodness and blessing. The greatness of life which emanates from the highest holy source constantly hovers over t’shuva and its heroes, for they are the champions of life, who call for its perfection. They demand the victory of good over evil, and the return to life’s true goodness and happiness, to the true, exalted freedom, which suits the man who ascends to his spiritual source and essential Divine image” (Orot HaT’shuva, 12:1).
It is time to take t’shuva out of the closet. The true champions of life are not the basketball players, not the Hollywood stars, not even the Prime Ministers and Presidents. The real heroes are the masters of t’shuva. They are the Supermen who battle the forces of darkness in order to fill the world with goodness and blessing. Teenagers! Tear down your wall posters of wrestlers and rock stars! The people to be admired are the masters of t’shuva! You can be one too!