Can Human Nature be Changed?

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Can Human Nature be Changed? by Rav B. Horovitz negative-positive


negative-positiveCan Human Nature be Changed?

by Rav B. Horovitz

Nature follows a cycle of ‘return’ to origins.  The oceans evaporate into clouds, clouds into rainfall, rainfall into streams and streams back to the oceans.  The seed grows to a plant and tree, producing fruit which contains seed for a new cycle.  The mammals including man begin from dust, reach their prime and in the end return to dust (Ecclesiasties 1).  So also the soul of man has its source in G-d, journeys through material existence, and then returns to its Creator (Eccles. 12:7).  ‘Penitence – Return’ was created before the World (Sages).

Man is most alive when he participates consciously in this cosmic process of returning to his Creator: “The nearness of G-d that is my good ” (Psalms 73:28).  Sin is the obstacle to this nearness. 

For your iniquities separated between you and your G-d” (Isiah 59:2).  If man regrets his wrong-doings and ‘returns’, the effects of evil are removed. 

How can that which has been done be undone?  If a man were to drink poison, his mere regret would not restore him to health.  But repentance is an antidote to the sickness of the soul.  The cure administered by the Divine Healer requires the co-operation of the patient and has three stages: diagnosis, treatment, and avoiding the cause of the illness. Knowledge of that which is sinful corresponds to the diagnosis, which the patient should do himself by examining his failings in the light of the moral teachings of the Bible and the Rabbis.  The treatment is to be sincerely sorry for the sins committed, and to confess them to the Creator, asking His pardon.  He must then avoid further wrongdoing and make a firm resolution not to continue his errors.  One who proceeds with treatment while clinging to unhealthy habits that caused the malady will never recover.

The first plain note of the Shofar (horn) of the New Year is the summons to self-examination (diagnosis in the light of G-d’s Teaching).  The middle wailing alarm notes correspond to the second stage of regret and confession (treatment).  The final all-clear sound is a call to make one’s mind not to repeat mistakes (avoiding recurrence).

It is almost impossible for a doctor to cure a patient who refuses treatment, not realizing, or not wanting to realize that he is ill.  The sensible man will not hide his head in the sand, thinking in his narrow-mindedness that he is not in need of change.  He will admit his sickness, take his medicine, and strive for improvement.

If, however, a person loses an entire limb, it cannot be restored.  So it is with serious sins.  When the Rabbis were asked, “How can such a sinner atone,” they answered “By death and retribution.”  G-d however, answered, “Let him repent.”  According to wisdom and prophecy, there is no means of escaping basic evil.  But if man transcends human concepts, he comes face to face with G-d Who can undo what has been done.  Even after the most serious wrongdoing, by means of confession to G-d he can reach a supernatural level of at-one-ment, and achieve a spiritual rebirth.

Natural Rebirth
The ‘return’ from sin, selfishness and sensuality to righteousness, spirituality and awareness of G-d, is the dynamic, existential progress of the individual toward wholeness and holiness. But this also has a national dimension:

When there will come upon you all these things, the blessing and the curse which I have set before you, then you will bring it to you heart among all the nations, wither the Lord your G-d had cast you off.  And you will return to the Lord your G-d“. (Deut. 30)

This movement of return after a period of assimilitation is affecting Jews and Israel today on a national scale.  It is the prelude to the return of mankind to the pristine state of bliss and wholeness described at the beginning of the Bible, and predicted as the utopian future of humanity by the Prophets of Israel.

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