The psychologist, Erich Fromm, in his book, Psychoanalysis and Religion describes an interesting photograph which captures the average man’s pain:
“It is proclaimed by many voices that our way of life makes us happy. But how many people of these times are happy? It is interesting to remember a casual shot in Life magazine some time ago of a group of people waiting on a street corner for the green light. What was so remarkable and shocking about this picture was that these people who all looked stunned and frightened had not witnessed a dreadful accident but, as the text had to explain, were merely average citizens going about their business.”
Fromm continues and states: “We pretend that our life is based on a solid foundation and ignore the shadows of uneasiness, anxiety and confusion which never leave us.”
Rabbi Kook understands all of this darkness and anguish. He sees its source not in external causes, not in the traumas of childhood, nor in the pressures to conform to behavioral norms. He looks beyond social, cultural, psychological, sexual, and family dynamics to shed spiritual light on the world’s confusion and pain.
“What is the cause of melancholy? The answer is the over-abundance of evil deeds, evil character traits, and evil beliefs on the soul. The soul’s deep sensitivity feels the bitterness which these cause, and it draws back, frightened and depressed.”
“All depression stems from sin, and t’shuva comes to light the soul and transforms the depression to joy. The source of the general pain in the world derives from the overall moral pollution of the universe, resulting from the sins of nations and individual man.”
If Rabbi Kook were to have studied the Life magazine photograph of the tense, unhappy people on the street corner who were waiting to cross the street, he would have suggested a far deeper reason for their anxiety than any psychologist could propose. A deeper reason, and a novel cure:
“Every sin causes a special anxiety on the spirit, which can only be erased by t’shuva. According to the depth of the t’shuva, the anxiety itself is transformed into inner security and courage. The outer manifestation of anxiety which is caused by transgression can be discerned in the lines of the face, in a person’s movements, in the voice, in behavior, and one’s handwriting, in the manner of speaking and one’s language, and above all, in writing, in the development of ideas and their presentation.”
The melancholy and anxiety haunting mankind is not a result of the “trauma of birth,” but of a spiritual separation much deeper — the separation from God.
“I see how transgressions act as a barrier against the brilliant Divine light which shines on every soul, and they darken and cast a shadow upon the soul.”
The remedy is t’shuva — for the individual, the community, and for the world. Rabbi Kook teaches that to discover true inner joy, every person, and all of Creation, must return to the Source of existence and forge a living connection to God.
The paperbacks on personal improvement, psychology, and self-help which line bookstore shelves, contain many useful insights and tips. After all, man is influenced by a wide gamut of factors dating back even before his conception, through his time in the womb, his childhood years, and spanning the many life passages each of us face. Rabbi Kook reveals that in addition to all of the fashionable theories and cures, on a far deeper level, there is a spiritual phenomenon of wondrous beauty, like a butterfly enclosed in a cacoon, waiting to soar free. This is the light and healing wonder of t’shuva.
(To be continued)