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#39 How Teshuva Changes the Past
Glimmerings of Penitence 6:5

All existence,

a particular freely-chosen act of a human being,

and that person’s inherent will power1

comprise one huge network2: they are never off-line from each other.

A person’s desire3 inputs into his actions.

Even actions in the past never lose contact

with the life-essence and the desire in [the person who was] its original source.

Since nothing is ever completely disconnected,

[a person’s present] desire has the power to impress4 specific character even on acts in the past.

And this is the secret of Teshuva,

which the Holy One Blessed be He created before He created the world.5

This means:

[God] expanded the human faculty of mental-spiritual creation

in its relation to actions and to being,

so that it would also include the past within its zone of effect.6

The bad act keeps showing up in different forms7, causing ugliness and evil, loss and destruction,

as long as our [mental-spiritual creativity] has not reconfigured it into a new shape.8

Once our [mental-spiritual creativity] reconfigures the act into a form of goodness,

the act itself begins to generate waves of goodness and delight,

joy in God and His light.9

עברית +/-


  1. Retzono haKavu‘a, literally, ‘his permanent, infixed will’ (distinguishing it from a particular willed act mentioned in the line above). Ratzon means ‘will, intention, goodwill, desire, wish’ (from the verb r-tz-y, which means ‘to be pleased with, to receive with favor; to love, to consent, to appease’); ratzon is a ‘leaning towards,’ and is related to the verb r-vav-tz, ‘to run towards.’ Wanting – which means both ‘lacking’ and ‘desiring to fill a lack’ – powers human creation. Man is, by design, needy. And he is, by design, willful, intentional, full of values and judgments and wishes about the desirable and the undesirable. He wants, he fears, he believes, he chooses, he pursues goals; his desire guides how he uses and changes the world and how he is in turn transformed by it. Human desire is lifelong. At any moment man can change his mind and spirit, feel a new will, intention or desire, empower new changes in the world and in himself, moving ever closer to the wholeness he seeks. Later in this Glimmering Rav Kook calls ratzon ‘the force of mental-spiritual creation.’ Back to text
  2. Shalshelet, literally, ‘[3-fold, interlinked] chain.’ I’ve used Internet metaphors where Rav Kook uses his age’s vocabulary of telegraphic and telephonic coupling and connectivity: kashur, ‘tied into, connected’; nitak, ‘disconnected.’ Back to text
  3. Chefetz, like ratzon, means ‘will, desire, pleasure, delight, wish, desirable object.’ Physically, it means ‘to bend’ (Job. 40:17). Back to text
  4. Lehatbi‘a (from tet-b-‘a), ‘to coin, to seal, to stamp, to imprint, to configure, to formulate.’ This verb is used by Rav Kook throughout this Glimmering, wherein I have translated it variously. Its usage here in reference to deeds infers that the chomer, the raw material of an act, can be re-formulated, given a new face retroactively, by a new human understanding and desire, in the process of Teshuva. Not nullified, not erased, but reworked into new effect, re-understood, given a new nature (teva‘, ‘nature,’ comes from this same root). Back to text
  5. Bereishit Rabba 1:4, s.v. Berei’shit bara’. Meaning before time, before being and causality; prior to, and thus not subservient to, the physical, chemical and biological laws of the universe. Back to text
  6. BeReshutah, literally, ‘within its domain, under its control.’ Back to text
  7. Holechet uMitgalgelet (the present participle of the hitpa‘el form of g-l-g-l, an intensified pilpel form of g-l-l, to roll) could be translated, in different eras of Hebrew, ‘keeps rolling along,’ ‘keeps on developing,’ or ‘keeps on metamorphosing.’ It might even mean ‘keeps sending out waves or signals’ (gal also means ‘a wave’ or ‘fountain’; in Modern Hebrew it also means ‘a trend’). Back to text
  8. Tzivyon Chadash. Tzivyon, like ratzon and chefetz, means ‘will, desire, pleasure’; physically, its root tz-b-h meant (Biblically) ‘to swell.’ And in Post-Biblical Hebrew its meaning expanded to ‘shape, form, figure; nature, character.’ Rav Kook is here talking about human desire: how it alters us physically (‘running, swelling’), psychologically (what goals we are setting) and metaphysically (what God are we serving). How it affects the shape of things: our acts, our life, our relationships, our mistakes and our re-beginnings. We reshape the past by re-understanding the desire it incorporated as a different, more glorious desire. As a noun, tzvi means ‘a desirable thing: beauty.’ Back to text
  9. For all sin is the innate human yearning for wholeness (an inherent and holy desire, the one meant to lead us to divine communion) misplaced, with terrible consequences. When my soul’s desire for oneness – for wholeness – is not met because I am alienated from my true self (see Glimmering #11, “Quintessential Sin – The Denial of Your True Self”) and I am not engaged in the inner work of ingathering the exiled aspects of myself (see Glimmering #30, “Penitence Begins with Returning to Your True Self”), I will feed my need for oneness illicitly, engage in acts that provide a fleeting flavor of wholeness, albeit through violating the oneness/wholeness of another: deceit, cruelty, theft, rape, adultery, murder. The rush of pseudo-oneness is also provided by idolatry (in its myriad forms, from pagan worship to money to television) in a projected, mirror form, where I feel union because the idol devours and lives off my will. Until I do the work of re-understanding my past bad behavior as seeking wholeness illicitly, and unless I create a new and compassionate space within myself and within my life for addressing this good and holy desire for wholeness, I will continue to sin against my fellow man, whom I cannot see as an inviolable, sacred whole; I will sin against myself, by keeping my soul in a crippled state, unable to sing its true song in the world; and I will sin against my God, Whose song I am meant to be singing, Whose oneness I am meant to be living and declaring. Back to text
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