The Cycle of Return

Last week I posted a teaching about teshuvah, quoting from Yaacov David Shulman’s translation of HaRav Kook’s Lights of Teshuvah. I’d like to add a few more thoughts here, beginning with HaRav Kook’s idea that teshuvah itself existed before the world was created: 

התשובה קדמה לעולם

Teshuvah preceded the world.”

I’ve been pondering the meaning of this phrase since first reading it two weeks ago. I believe it is related to Shulman’s definition of teshuvah as return, particularly our “return to a mended planet.” I came closer to this understanding of teshuvah through participating in a Reverse Tashlich program, hosted by Peachtree Creek Greenway, Inc. and co-sponsored by Ahavath Achim Synagogue, Congregation Shearith Israel, and the Jewish Climate Action Network of Georgia (JCAN-GA).

As we prepared to remove trash from the creek to prevent it from damaging the plants and wildlife, and from contaminating the water, I offered a reflection about how the cycle of teshuvah, return, exists in nature, in the waters:

The rain falls and flows into the creek through drains and viaducts; the creek flows to the river, which flows to the sea; the sea water evaporates and is drawn up into the heavens, where it forms clouds; and then, the rain falls…

Our task of teshuvah is to care for the waters, so their cycle of return is unimpeded.

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Earlier in the book, HaRav Kook teaches, “The spirit of teshuvah hovers in the world.” In Hebrew this phrase reminds me of the beginning of the biblical creation story, when the world had not yet been formed and “the spirit of God hovers over the waters.” (Genesis 1:2) God then separates the waters, creating a space between the waters above, in the heavens, and the waters below, in the seas. 

Teshuvah preceded the world, hovering on the face of the waters, in the spirit of God the Creator. 

Teshuvah entered the world at the beginning of its creation, when God designated the waters above and the waters below. Later, God breathed the spirit of life into the nostrils of the first human.

Teshuvah is in our souls. It resides in the 55-60% of the tissue in our bodies and flows in the 90% of our blood that is water.

Our task of caring for the planet is enormous. Our capacity for teshuvah is infinite.