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Rabbi Chanan Morrison

Rav   Living Teshuva

“For some time I have been struggling with  that influences all aspects of life, not     demands of small, everyday deeds –
an inner conflict, and a mighty force impels                         only the realm of the sacred: “Teshuva       demands that they consider to be a sign
me to speak about teshuva [penitence].                               holds a primary place in Torah and in        of weakness and a feeble spirit.
All my thoughts are focused on this topic.                           life.” Thus one who frees himself from       No, the generation must be awakened
Teshuva holds a primary place in Torah                               unhealthy habits – this is also a type of    via an optimistic spirit of greatness and
and in life. All the hopes of the individual                         teshuva. Additionally, Rav Kook posited      courage. “Teshuva comes not to embitter
                                                                     that this powerful force is not limited      life,” Rav Kook taught, “but to make
S and of society depend on it."                                      to the failings and triumphs of the          it pleasant” (ibid. 15:6). “Teshuva is
        o begins Rav Kook’s introduction                             individual. It also applies to failures and  essentially a return to [our] origins, to
        to Orot HaTeshuva (Lights of                                 successes of the nation and the entire       the source of supernal life and existence
        Penitence), perhaps his most                                 universe: “All hopes of the individual       in their wholeness” (ibid. 12:8).
popular work, first published in 1925.                               and society as a whole depend on it.”        In an article printed in HaYesod in
The compact book was beloved by its                                                                               1934, he explained: “Teshuva is the
author, and Rav Kook himself would                                   National and Spiritual Revival               great key to redemption. Many things
study its teachings during the month of                              Rav Kook firmly believed that a              inhibit teshuva, but the major obstacle,
Elul after morning prayers. One student                              secular national revival, the entire         particularly to collective teshuva, is the
reported hearing Rav Kook say, “I                                    program of rebuilding the Land and           misconception of teshuva as atrophy
worked extensively on Orot HaTeshuva.                                the nation, could not succeed without        of the soul, as the enfeebling and
Whoever studies it properly will find                                a parallel revival in holiness, with lofty   debilitation of life. This false image also
light in every word.” He also declared:                              manifestations of this holiness expressed    impairs the teshuva of the individual. But
“Orot HaTeshuva should be studied                                    in both personal and public spheres.         more than anything, it hinders collective
endlessly.”                                                          But what path would lead the generation      teshuva, the teshuva of the nation.
What is so special about the book’s                                  of rebirth to the gates of teshuva? The      “We must disclose the secret that the
outlook on teshuva?                                                  routine approach is doomed to failure.       genuine teshuva of the entire nation
Teshuva – a Return to Life                                           One cannot reach out to the idealistic       of Israel is a mighty, powerful vision
Orot HaTeshuva illuminates the                                       youth of such a generation, brimming         that provides reserves of might and
concepts of sin, punishment, and                                     with life, vigor, and creativity, with       strength, imbuing all of our spiritual and
penitence. It explains that sin primarily                            a severe demeanor and punctilious            pragmatic values with a lofty spirit of
harms the one who sinned, as it cuts him                                                                          vigorous, surging creative energy from
off from the roots of his very being, from                                                                        the power of the Rock of Israel. This
the light of his soul. This estrangement                                                                          living teshuva flows not from isolated,
is sin’s worst punishment. Teshuva,                                                                               fragmented souls, but from the treasury
on the other hand, redeems the sinner                                                                             of the nation’s collective soul, Knesset
from this darkness. It rejuvenates him,                                                                           Yisrael .... In this way, the united soul of
restoring his previous state of life and                                                                          Israel is prepared to return to its former
joy.                                                                                                              strength, as in days of old.”
The word teshuva literally means                                                                                  (Adapted from Sapphire from the Land of
‘return.’ It is not an escape from the                                                                            Israel, by Rabbi Chanan Morrison.)
world. On the contrary, it is “precisely
through genuine, pure teshuva that we                                                                             Rabbi Chanan Morrison is the author
return to the world and to life” (Orot                                                                            of several books on Rav Kook's
HaTeshuva 14:30).                                                                                                 writings
Already in his introduction, Rav Kook
described teshuva as an underlying force                                                                                                           7
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