Each day, there is a bat kol, a heavenly voice, which calls out from Mount Sinai:
“Return O faithless children” (Jer. 3:14) – Tractate Hagigah 15A
The Hasidic Master, Yisrael of Kosnitz, teaches that God is calling us daily. Everyone hears this heavenly voice, but each of us hears it in a different manner.Some of us hear God’s voice with the whole of our heart. Some of us hear it with only partial attentiveness. Some of us receive the call on the unconscious level – we are aware in our soul, but we experience no visible signs of reception in our physical consciousness. And some of us sense that something is happening, but then refuse to open our hearts to listen.
Even among those that “hear the call”, each of us responds in our own fashion. Some of us hearken to the Divine call and completely change our lives in response. Some become more spiritually minded, but still continue to run after physical desires. Others hear, but do not believe that it is God who is speaking. And then there are those who receive the call, but ignore the message, carrying on with life as if nothing has happened at all.
This heavenly call of return, of teshuvah, is an act of Divine mercy. Rebbe Natan of Nemirov teaches that there are two acts of chesed or mercy that God does for us. The first chesed is that God creates us and gives us life. The second chesed is that God provides us with a way back to Him after we have sinned – a way to draw closer again after we have distanced ourselves from the Divine Presence. This second chesed, Rebbe Natan declares, is a much greater gift.
Rebbe Natan compares the first chesed to the written Torah. Like the written Torah, the law of life is the same for everyone, and everything is written down in black and white. Each mitzvah, (spiritually positive act) has its specific reward, and each aveyrah (spiritually negative act), has its designated punishment. Everything follows codified rules laid out according to the laws of cause and effect.
Rebbe Natan compares the second chesed to the oral Torah. Like the oral Torah, the way back to God is something that can only be passed from mouth to ear. It is different for each person, according to the specific circumstances of who we are and what we have done. Each of us can only hear the heavenly voice calling to us from the place where we are.
We each need our own path of return, because each of us is connected to a particular spiritual background. We each come from different root souls. We work with our own specific energies. We each have a distinctive manner of learning and growing.
There are three major paths of return. First there is the path of the heart where we are pulled to God by His Infinite Love. This love motivates us to change our lives. It awakens within us a powerful devotion. This devotion gives us the strength to overcome the obstacles along our path. Even if we do not understand the reasons for the difficult choices that we need to make, or the painful experiences that we must undergo, our profound love for God nonetheless carries us through to our goal.
The second method is the path of the mind. Initially, we use our intellect to determine the qualities that we need to further our spiritual growth. Next, we think the matter through and decide which activities will develop these missing attributes. Then, we actively pursue a course of action that will incorporate these activities into our lives. Even if we have no natural inclination for the desired qualities, we push ourselves to act as if we do. We keep up with the appropriate behavior until the positive attributes become a natural part of our character. In this manner, we fulfill the difficult work of self-transformation and teshuvah.
In the third path, the focus is on the will. We ascertain what needs to be done, and then we force ourselves to do it. We neither reason things out nor awaken a powerful devotion. We simply establish our objectives and then take control of our personality. By a sheer act of will, we mold ourselves into the desired form, obliterating the unwanted qualities from our character, while simultaneously thrusting the desired attributes to the fore.
According to Rebbe Natan, there are more than just the three paths of teshuvah outlined above. There are, in fact, ten pathways to teshuvah. Each path is connected to one of the ten sephirot or spiritual centers. Each of the methods resonates with one of the ten energies of the Kabbalistic Tree of Life. Each of the energies is associated with a specific Divine attribute or state of consciousness.
Each of us needs to find the path that is appropriate for our nature. Each of us needs to discover the route that will lead us onto the road of return. The path of return for one person is not suitable for another. Yet all of us will pass through the dual process of transformation and rebirth. All of us will one day return home.
Not only there are different paths of teshuvah for different people, there also are separate aspects of teshuvah which play a central role during each time period. Each time period has its own specific emanation of spiritual energies. Each day reflects a particular combination of the sefirot.
This individual form of teshuvah corresponds to the spiritual attribute of that day. In order to fulfill our spiritual work for that day, we need to know the energy and consciousness which it embodies. Only then can we properly attune ourselves to the work of that period. Only then can we discover the spiritual tikkun that we need to accomplish.
We can understand this teaching on another level as well. Rather than applying the teaching to each day, we can relate it to the different stages of the spiritual life. Each stage in our journey has its own particular struggles and challenges. The struggles that we face as an developing personality are different than the struggles that we face as a fully evolved human being. The challenges that we confront as a neophyte upon the path are different than the challenges that we encounter as a mature seeker. Each stage has its own teshuvah – process of self-introspection, growth and transformation. Each stage has its unique experience of self-knowledge, realization and awakening.
The process of teshuvah has extraordinary transformative powers. Rebbe Natan believes that sincere teshuvah can take us to a place that transcends time. In this sacred space all things related to time do not exist. Since our sins and their consequences are of the nature of a time relationship, the result of cause and effect, teshuvah wipes them away. This, Rebbe Natan explains, is the hidden interpretation of Psalm 2:7, “You are my son; today I have given birth to you.” Through an act of genuine teshuvah, we are born again anew.
At the end of the passage which began this teaching, the prophet Jeremiah declares:
“Return, O faithless children, says the Lord; for I have taken you to Myself: and I will take you one of a city, and two of a family, and I will bring you to Zion: and I will give you shepherds according to My heart, who shall feed you with knowledge and understanding.“ – Jer. 3:14-15
This month of Elul, may we be blessed to hear God calling. May we discover the appropriate teshuvah for the stage in our spiritual journey that we have reached. May we find the path of return which corresponds to our own unique spiritual background and the specific sefirot that we need to repair. May we be blessed to receive the knowledge and understanding that we need to make our way back home.
Copyright © 2012, by Yoel Glick