Dear Reader — if you are looking to be happy, creative, in harmony with God and with the universe, the Torah has the answer — Return to the Source.
When we speak about Returning to the Source, what does this mean? Where have we gone that we need to return? This is a very profound question, and only the beginnings of an answer will be given in this essay. The soul, in its essence, belongs to the World of Souls. When it is placed in this world, in a physical body, it naturally longs to go home. For the soul, going home is being reunited with God. One of the great innovations of the Torah is the teaching that this reunion is not limited to the return of the soul to “Heaven” after the death of the body. The Torah teaches that the soul can find union with God in this world. The expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden metaphorically describes man’s existential plight. In effect, the sum of world history is mankind’s journey to Return to the Garden. Not only man, but the world itself wants to return to its original state of joy and perfection. This yearning is one of the most powerful forces of Creation.
Paradoxically, the Coronavirus epidemic has come to help us get back to the Garden. In addition to having co-written four commentaries with me on the teachings of Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaKohen Kook, Rabbi David Samson is the principle of several yeshiva high schools in Jerusalem. When the epidemic broke out and schools were closed in Israel, he continued teaching his students online. He explains:
“In our first ‘Zoom’ class, I told the kids that via Corona, the world is being ‘restarted’ by the Master of Heaven and Earth. Life as we knew it until now is being ‘erased’ and ‘deleted.’ In effect, we are waiting for an agonizing download to end, and for a new program to begin. When they asked why God was doing this, I explained that Divine punishment for transgression comes measure-for-measure. From our solitary confinement, we see more and more each day how human society and culture are being destroyed. No one is participating in social encounters. That indicates that today’ social and cultural machinations need to be rectified. Not only are the cultural trappings of mankind being destroyed, the bars, movie houses, theaters, rock concerts, and the like – also the yeshivas and synagogues have been forced to close. That means that we have to do a major reboot of everything. For instance, the institution of the family has undergone terrible and perverse transformations in our modern era, when everyone raises the banner of ‘doing one’s own thing,’ no matter how egotistical and immoral it may be. Today, a family can be composed of a father and a father, or two mothers, or who knows what else? The Coronavirus has brought the family back together. Even if people are separated by quarantines, hearts are together, with true concern for the wellbeing of others, not just ourselves. Even though people may be technically estranged, we are being reborn and internally changed. In our forced Corona incubation, we have gone back to the natural family. Also, in the bigger picture, in the family of nations, threatened by the world crisis, warring countries have put down their swords. Instead of fighting against each other, they are helping each other. This sudden unity, of the family, and of the world, is a healthy development which the King of the Universe has brought about with His scary invisible bug, an adversary which doesn’t distinguish between boomerang-throwing Aborigines from Australia, dapper-dressed Englishmen from London, or skirted Africans from Zululand. Covid-19 doesn’t care. To it, we are all the same. All in the same ship together.”
The Kabbalistic concept of “Returning to the Source” is bound up with the concept of “T’shuva.” While the Hebrew word t’shuva is normally translated as penitence or repentance, it is much more than that. The root of the Hebrew word t’shuva means “return.” T’shuva is a return to the Source, to one’s roots, to one’s deepest inner self. The phenomenon of T’shuva spreads out over all of the universe, encompassing mankind and all of Creation, bringing harmony and perfection to all of existence. One of the greatest Kabbalists of modern times, Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaCohen Kook, a master of mysticism and Torah Law, wrote extensively on the subject of T’shuva. He states:
“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 Return (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 God, to the Soul of all Souls. And he will continue to stride higher and higher in purity and joy. This is true for an individual, a nation, for all of mankind, and for the perfection of all existence.”
I know that many people are uncomfortable reading about the Torah and God. In our day and age, especially in modern countries like America, the name God may appear on the dollar, but the dollar, and the things it can buy, have become far more popular than God. But the holiday of Shavuot is upon us, the Jewish holiday which marks the given of the Torah on Mount Sinai to the Jews, so it won’t hurt to hear a little about Torah and God. After all, they are both an integral part of Jewish history, so bear with me. Chances are, if you were traveling to Japan for a visit, you wouldn’t hesitate to read up a bit on Japanese culture and religion, so, even if you aren’t religious, hearing a little about Judaism isn’t the most outrageous thing in the world.
The drive to Return to the Garden of Eden, and to our spiritual Source, is a great, inner foundation of life. One can readily understand that to reach fulfillment and happiness, a person must be his true self. In modern times, this basic understanding has been corrupted into a “do your own thing” attitude. The Torah advocates a deeper, inner search, far beyond the surface passions and emotions which often lead people to express their every desire and lust. Man, and all of existence, has a deeper, spiritual source. In the depths of this ever-pure realm, our true essence lies. A person who makes the inward journey of returning to Eden comes to encounter his soul and the Creator who gave it. As Rabbi Kook writes:
“It is only through the great truth of returning to oneself that the individual, the nation, the world, all of the worlds, and all of existence, will return to its Maker, to be illuminated by the Light of Life.”
During the Corona crisis, we are not alone in our rooms of solitary confinement – God is with us. It is meant to be a time of reflection. Against our will, our lives have been interrupted, and we have been pulled away from everything and left stuck in the house. Indeed, this is a gift. A time of inner examination. At time to diverse ourselves of the baggage of the past and make a new beginning. A time to ponder the question, “What are we doing here on Earth? Why have we been created? What is the rhyme and reason of our existence?
Throughout history, man has been searching to discover the driving force of life. To a capitalist, money makes the world go around. To a romanticist, love is what impassions mankind. Freudians claim that man’s unconscious desires and libido are to blame. Peering into a microscope, a modern physicist declares that atoms and neutrons cause the world to spin. For biologists, the uniting power resides in strands of DNA. A Coronavirus researcher sees the crown-capped bacteria of Covid-19. When the Kabbalist gazes into the inner workings of the soul, the soul of the individual, and the soul of the world, he sees that the force behind all existence is the innate striving to return to its Source. In effect, the desire to return to the Source is the force which pushes all physical and spiritual worlds towards completion. It is only through returning to the Source of his being that each person, and all of mankind, will discover true joy and salvation from the straightjacket of materialism which is suffocating the world today. So this Shavuot, why not study a little Torah? You can find a plethora of Torah classes on the Internet, on Jewish websites, on Jewish groups on Facebook, Zoom classes, and classes in the community if heath restrictions allow them to be held. Don’t be afraid. Pretend you are going to some exotic foreign land where you would gladly experience one of their cultural rites. You may even enjoy it!