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August 31, 2015 / 16 Elul, 5775
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Feel Frightened and Depressed? Be Happy!

Simply put, to the initiate, the pain that comes with t’shuva is scary. The baal t’shuva is the man of courage. He is the true hero. He is the one prepared to set out on the greatest journey in life.
Frightened

Should an individual choose a life of sin, God forbid, rather than a life of t’shuva, a terrible darkness envelopes his soul, and his thoughts, aspirations, and character become seeped in evil. These people are the wicked of the world, who see the world in the dark colors which mirror their soul. These are the cynics who find fault in everything, the irreverent who complain against God.

Lacking the will to escape his dungeon of sin, cut off from the world’s future of goodness, the wicked cower behind defensive masks of scorn. They are like the sour notes of a symphony, the coughs in the theater, the laughter in the balcony, the Nietzsches and Nazis of the world, who condemn the ideals which they cannot obtain. Too weak to escape the clutches of sin, they become its proponents.

The fear that accompanies the awakenings of t’shuva is what keeps people imprisoned in darkness. It is a fear that grips whole nations. Rather than acknowledge that their cultures are based on falsehood and evil, entire civilizations cling to their delusions and myths. Instead of embracing the light of God, the world pays mere lip service, hiding behind one brand of paganism or another.

Existential pain is not only experienced by those far from God, but also by the righteous. A tzaddik who dedicates his whole life to fostering goodness, can also fall out of harmony with existence. Because his soul is so sensitive to evil, he reacts to every small transgression with grief and despair. Perhaps his intention in doing a good deed was not on the proper level. Perhaps he failed to maintain concentration throughout all of his prayers. To the extent that he fails to be pure in all of his actions, emotions, and thoughts, his soul experiences and calls out for t’shuva. He longs to be closer to God, to be reunited with the harmony of existence.

Rabbi Kook explains that the pain of the righteous person stems not only from his own personal shortcomings. Even if he were to be sinless, he would still feel the pain of the universal soul as it longs for a higher connection to God. Because of the unity of all existence, as long as the world is darkened with sin, the tzaddik suffers too. He feels the absence of Divine light in the world, and the pain of the exiled Shekhinah. He carries the pain of the world in his soul, and he expresses, with all of his being, all of his organs, all of his strength, the world’s longing for God. Because he embodies the sufferings of the world, when he is forgiven, the world is forgiven with him.

Rabbi Kook has further good news. We all can be righteous!

Every person who deeply feels the remorse of t’shuva and the inner turmoil to redress his wrongdoings, both those which he can readily mend, and those which he hopes to address, with God’s help, in the future — he should include himself with the righteous whose thoughts of t’shuva renew the entire world with a new light” (Orot HaT’shuva, 8:6).

Rabbi Kook’s level after level exploration into the psychology of sin does not end in despair, but in peace and salvation. He explains that the despair a person feels when he confronts his sins is itself a source of hope. The fact that a person is in a state of pain and despair means that he senses his alienation from the positive forces of life. He realizes that sin is not the ideal. This means that the light of morality and holiness in his soul still flickers. In his innermost heart, he still longs for goodness. All is not lost. The important thing is not to fall prey to despair, and to remember that a great happiness is on the way.

When an individual contemplates embarking on a course of total t’shuva, of mending all of his feelings and deeds, even if this is only a thought, he must not be discouraged by the feelings of fear which arise when he faces his many sins, which now seem so pronounced. This is only natural, for as long as a person is seized by the baser side of his nature, and by the dark, negative traits which surround him, he does not feel the weight of his sins so strongly. Occasionally, he feels nothing, and fancies himself a tzaddik. But since his moral sense is awakening, the light of his soul immediately is revealed, and it probes all of his being and exposes all of his wrongs. Then his heart shudders with great fear over his lowliness and lack of perfection. But it is exactly at this instant that he should feel that this awareness, and the worry it causes, are the best signs, forecasting a complete salvation through self-perfection, and he should strengthen himself through this recognition in the Lord his God (Ibid, 8:16).

About the Author: Tzvi Fishman was awarded the Israel Ministry of Education Prize for Creativity and Jewish Culture for his novel "Tevye in the Promised Land." A wide selection of his books are available at Amazon.

The author's opinion does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Jewish Press.

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Tzvi Fishman, author of the Jewish Press blog Felafel on Rye and author of more than a dozen books.
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