Translation by Yehoshua Siskin
86 years ago today, Rav Avraham Yitzhak HaCohen Kook passed away. When Rav Kook is mentioned, many automatically respond with the word "unity" since Rav Kook spoke continuously about the need for unity among our people as he reached out to every Jewish grotheup, including radical secularists. Yet one of Rav Kook's most notable disciples, Rav Moshe-Zvi Neriya, saw Rav Kook's emphasis on teshuvah as the most important and innovative aspect of his thought. Today, we are accustomed to speak of those who are "chozer b'teshuvah" (returning through teshuvah) as Jews who make the transition from a secular to a religious lifestyle. Yet teshuvah for Rav Kook is something else. It is applicable to everyone since he defines teshuvah as self-improvement, character refinement, and personal progress. It is precisely through Rav Kook's unflagging desire to unite us that he urges us to look within to discover how we can increase our love and caring for one another by transforming ourselves.
Rav Kook's teshuvah process begins with "personal teshuvah". In opposition to the gloomy image of teshuvah in some quarters, Rav Kook's book on the subject is entitled "Orot HaTeshuvah" (The Lights of Teshuvah). Above all, teshuvah is meant to bring more light - more optimism and joy - into our lives.
There is also "national teshuvah", our return to Zion. The return to our land must be physical as well as spiritual. The connection we have been privileged to create in this generation between our nation, our land, and the Torah is the fulfillment of ancient prophecies that have come true before our eyes.
And in a wider context, there is "universal teshuvah". The entire world develops and advances as we become more sensitive to suffering and injustice, learn to rein in pandemics and prevent wars, and convert violent regimes into democracies.
There are of course ups and downs in personal, national, and universal teshuvah. There is also much confusion and turmoil that still surround us, despite our best efforts and laudable achievements. But Rav Kook's teshuvah is - at the very least - a process that moves us in the right direction.
In his memory.