The Month of Return
The Jewish month of Av will soon become Ellul, and mourning for the destruction of the Temples will give way to repentance for our sins. It is time for introspection; and, as we contemplate our relationships with others and with the Divine, questions about penitence, forgiveness, change, and mortality itself inevitably arise.
In anticipation of Ellul, which begins this weekend, we re-publish two features that confront these questions. The first piece has two parts. One is based on a reflection by U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman, who will retire at the end of this year, on Shabbat and the ways in which it creates a path to understanding the purpose of life on earth. The second part describes a surprising meditation by polemicist David Horowitz on his mortality and his growing comprehension of the redemptive significance of the Jewish people.
The second feature reprinted here is a commentary on the teachings of the great theologian and mystic, Rav Kook, about the meaning of repentance. Dissimilar as he is to Lieberman and Horowitz, Rav Kook, like them, bases his work on a personal idea of teshuvah, “return.”
With the return to Ellul, we return to these explorations of the great questions of this season. —The Editors
The Book of Life by Tevi Troy
The High Holy Days are traditionally a time for introspection. Even the sturdiest soul must pause with trepidation over the more harrowing passages in the somber liturgy of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Who shall live, and who shall die? Who in his time, and who not in his time? Who by fire, and who by drowning? Wrestling with such questions is nothing new in Judaism, but this year, by coincidence, two newly published books, though vastly different in character, jointly aid in the search for meaning that is the watchword of the season.
In another set of coincidences, both books are by laymen rather than scholars or rabbis, and both laymen are active in American politics. Read on . . .
Repentance = Freedom? by Yehudah Mirsky
In the thick of the month of Ellul, nearing Rosh Hashanah, penitence is or should be in the air. Also recently marked was the 75th yahrzeit of the great mystic, jurist, and theologian Abraham Isaac Kook (1865-1935). As it turns out, Kook's teachings on the meaning of repentance are among his most striking, stamped with his distinctive mix of piety and audacity. In his eyes, teshuvah, generally translated as "repentance" but literally and more powerfully "return," signifies not only a deepened and renewed commitment to religion and commandments but, paradoxically, nothing less than a new birth of freedom.
Kook's ideas on the subject are chiefly laid out in the volume Orot Hateshuvah ("The Lights of Return"), first published in 1925. Like nearly all his works, this is less a systematic treatise than a collection of reflections, aphorisms, and poetic and mystical flights culled from his spiritual diaries. Again, like all his works, it is deep, transporting—and problematic. Read on . . .
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