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T’Shuva and Finding Happiness


Happiness can be hard to find. This man found it through aliyah -- moving to Israel.

Happiness can be hard to find. This man found it through aliyah -- moving to Israel.
Photo Credit: Moshe Shai / Flash 90

In describing the inner workings of t’shuva, Rabbi Kook does not enumerate the many halachic laws of repentance which can be found in other books. For instance, the Rambam’s Laws of T’shuva sets forth the steps a person must take in redressing transgression. Among the many details, a penitent must confess his sin, feel remorse, abandon his wrongdoing, amend his ways, and never commit the transgression again (Rambam, Laws of T’shuva, 2:2). Rabbi Kook presumes that his reader has a knowledge of these laws. His goal is to illuminate the overall phenomenon and importance of t’shuva in the life of the individual, the Jewish Nation, and the world.

Summing up his analysis of specific t’shuva, Rabbi Kook describes a journey from darkness to light:

“How downtrodden was the soul when the burden of sin, its darkness, vulgarity, and horrible suffering lay upon it. How lowly and oppressed the soul was, even if external riches and honor fell in its portion. What good is there in wealth if life’s inner substance is poor and stale? How joyful the soul is now with the inner conviction that its iniquity has been forgiven, that God’s nearness is living and glowing inside it, that its inner burden has been lightened, that its debt (of atonement) has already been paid, and that it is no longer anguished by inner turmoil and oppression. The soul is filled with rest and rightful tranquility. ‘Return to thy rest, O my soul, for the Lord has dealt bountifully with thee’” (Tehillim, 116:7).

Interestingly, the process of anguish, depression, catharsis, and joy which Rabbi Kook describes parallels the psychiatric journey, or the quest for happiness in our time. Vast numbers of people are depressed and unhappy. The world’s pleasures can only bring them a few fleeting moments of delight. Their lives are plagued by darkness, anxiety, and inner despair. Modern psychiatry, and all of the popular books on the subject, offer a gamut of explanations, solutions, treatments, and cures. They too promise psychic release and joy. But all too often, after some initial relief, the patient is back on the couch, or back in the bookstore searching for the newest bestseller.

In Rabbi Kook’s explanation of specific t’shuva and general t’shuva, what strikes us is his understanding of human psychology. While psychiatrists offer many theories about man’s existential dilemma and angst, Rabbi Kook reveals that the real cause of humanity’s malaise stems from mankind’s severance from God. The solution, he teaches, is t’shuva.

RABBI KOOK’s explanation of general t’shuva, sounds remarkably like a description of the anxiety and spiritual darkness of our age:

“There is another type of feeling of t’shuva — a vague, general t’shuva. Past sin or sins do not weigh on a person’s heart. Rather he has a general feeling of profound inner depression, that he is filled with sin, that God’s light does not shine on him, that there is nothing noble in his being. He senses that his heart is sealed, and that his personality and traits are not on the straight and desirable path that is worthy of gracing a pure soul with a wholesome life. He feels that his intellectual insights are primitive, and that his emotions are mixed with darkness and lusts which awake within him a spiritual repulsion. He is ashamed of himself; he knows that God is not within him; and this is his greatest anguish, his most frightening sin. He is embittered with himself; he can find no escape from his snare which involves no specific wrongdoing – rather it is as if his entire being is imprisoned in dungeon locks.

“From out of this psychic bitterness, t’shuva comes as a healing plaster from an expert physician. The feeling of t’shuva — with a deep insight into its working and its deep foundation in the recesses of the soul, in the hidden realms of nature, in all the chambers of Torah, faith and tradition — with all of its power, comes and streams into his soul. A mighty confidence in its healing, the encompassing rebirth which t’shuva affords to all who cling to it, surrounds the person with a spirit of grace and mercy.”

This description of depression, darkness, inner shame and despair is an exact description of modern man’s psychic condition. Whether it is termed psychological neurosis by Sigmund Freud, primal angst by Carl Jung, anxiety by Rollo May, or feeling not-OK by Thomas Harris, the symptoms are the same.

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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