With a few days to go before Rosh Hashanah, my thoughts always turn to the writings of the first Chief Rabbi of pre-state Israel, Rav Kook (1865-1935), and his teachings of teshuvah (penitence) in his beautifully poetic book Orot HaTeshuvah (‘Lights of Penitence’). A key teaching of his is how teshuvah is not only an individual responsibility, but a communal, collective process:
“We must disclose the secret that the genuine teshuvah of the entire nation of Israel is a mighty, powerful vision that provides reserves of might and strength, imbuing all of our spiritual and pragmatic values with a lofty spirit of vigorous, surging creative energy from the power of the Rock of Israel. This living teshuvah flows not from isolated, fragmented souls, but from the treasury of the nation’s collective soul, Knesset Yisrael …. In this way, the united soul of Israel is prepared to return to its former strength, as in days of old.”
Without me going too far down a theological rabbit hole, and losing myself (and you, dear reader) in the process, what I take from this teaching is the following:
You and I are connected, bound together by the promise of the nation of Israel. And regardless of what type of Jew we are, and how often or how little we choose to engage in this crazy Jewish experiment of ours, we share a collective soul. How we treat each other matters more than we think. When you do well, I do well. When you hurt, I hurt. When you get closer to Hashem, you schlepp me along. And vice versa. There’s no other in this equation – just an us.
So wherever you are this Rosh Hashanah, look around you at the other faces in the crowd, at your loved ones, at your friends, at the people who drive you crazy, at the fancy people and the regular crowd, and when the shofar blows, remember that we are in this together – the united soul of Israel.
Ktivah v’chatimah tovah. To the whole school community, I want to wish all of us a happy, healthy and meaningful 5776.
P.S. If music is your thing, (and not my ramblings), check out the Moshav Band’s take on teshuvah, in their song Return Again.