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The Judaism of Tomorrow
My Rav Kook
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#30 Penitence Begins with Returning to Your True Self
8Collections 8:213; Glimmerings of Penitence 15:10

When we forget our personal soul,

when we distract our mind from looking into the inner life of the unique self,

everything becomes blurry and uncertain.

And the primary turnaround1,

which immediately illuminates the dark places,

is that the person turn back towards his unique self, to the root of his own soul,

and instantly he will be returning to God, to the Soul of All Souls;

then he will stride higher and higher in holiness and purity.

And this [formula for penitence, first returning to the self,] applies [universally],

whether it be the case of an individual person, or an entire nation, or all of humanity,

or the process of repairing all of existence as a whole2,

for its deterioration always stems from its own self-forgetting.

And if a soul wants to return to God,

but she is not reworking3 her own self to ingather all her own exiles4,

lo, this is fraudulent repentance, by which she is taking God’s name in vain.


it is only through the great truth of turning back to one’s [original, divinely-designed] self

that the individual and the Nation, the world and all worlds – all existence in its entirety,

will return to its Creator, to shine with the light of aliveness.5

And this is the secret of the Messiah’s light: the appearance of the world’s soul;

when it shines forth, the world will turn round to the source of all being6

and Godlight will be revealed to it.

And it is from the wellspring of this huge return

that a person should draw forth the life of holiness that is true Teshuva.

עברית +/-


  1. VehaTeshuva haRa’shit. The adjective ra’shi comes from ro’sh (‘head, chief’) and means ‘principal, main, primary; first in time as well as in importance.’ Back to text
  2. Kol haHavaya kula. The Hebrew root of havaya, ‘existence, being,’ is h-vav-y (‘to be, to come to be, to exist; to take place, be formed’), which is also the root of God’s very first spoken word of Creation, the jussive yehi, ‘Let there be…’ (Gen. 1:4): barely a breath of a word, but all of spacetime within it, as well as the infinite difference between Man and God, Who transcends being, Who has nothing qualitative in common with physical existence. But the cosmic self-forgetting referred to in the next line may be referring to the fact that existence, the havaya, is also an anagram of the Tetragrammaton, God’s own ineffable name. When existence forgets its sacred origin and relationship, when it forgets it is the Name of God spoken into being, it cannot tap its infinite harmonious potential and will decay. Back to text
  3. Mechavnenet, literally, ‘tuning [as a musical instrument], (re-)adjusting.’ Back to text
  4. Lekabetz et nidacheha, i.e., to ingather parts of herself she has banished, thrust away, repressed or split off. The phrase is used Biblically to describe God’s promise to ingather the remotely scattered exiles of Israel. See, e.g., Deut. 30:4. Back to text
  5. Ley’or be’or hachayim, literally, ‘to shine with the light of life’ (Job 33:30, which is about resurrection). Back to text
  6. LeShoresh haHavaya. See note above. Back to text
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