Thus, when Joe Cohen walks gloomily into a bookstore looking for a paperback bestseller on how to be happy, he should also look for a book on t’shuva. Before phoning a shrink, he should have a good, long talk with a rabbi.
In emphasizing that t’shuva is the cure for mankind’s anxiety and depression, we do not intend to negate the contributions of psychology and its related fields. Psychology has its place. For instance, an insecure youth will experience a feeling of liberation when he realizes that his parents are smothering him. The feelings of repressed anger which were causing him depression now can be dealt with. Similarly, when a man in couples-therapy realizes that he feels in competition with his wife because of unresolved childhood hang-ups with his brother, he will feel liberated to embark on a healthier marriage. However, while childhood traumas influence behavior and cause great confusion and pain, when they are finally uncovered and resolved, the catharsis which results is only a step along the way.
Until an individual erases all of the “neuroses” or barriers which separate him from God, he will remain estranged from his self, imprisoned in darkness, living either like an unfeeling zombie, or in depression and pain. Psychology and its branches can give him a start, but ultimately, the only real cure is t’shuva.
Rabbi Kook explains just how the healing takes place:
“With each passing day, powered by this lofty general t’shuva, his feeling becomes more secure, clearer, more enlightened with the light of intellect, and more clarified according to the foundations of Torah. His demeanor becomes brighter, his anger subsides, the light of grace shines on him. He becomes filled with strength; his eyes are filled with a holy fire; his heart is completely immersed in springs of pleasure; holiness and purity envelop him. A boundless loves fills all of his spirit; his soul thirsts for God, and this very thirst satiates all of his being. The holy spirit rings before him like a bell, and he is informed that all of his willful transgressions, the known and the unknown, have been erased; that he has been reborn as a new being; that all of the world and all of Creation are reborn with him; that all of existence calls out in song, and that the joy of God infuses all. Great is t’shuva for it brings healing to the world. When even one individual who repents is forgiven, the whole world is forgiven with him” (Yoma 86B. Orot HaTshuva, 3).
Thus, general overall t’shuva does not come to mend anything specific. It occurs when a person feels lost, surrounded by darkness, and cut off from God. In this drastic state, a total revamping is needed. The rotted foundations of this person’s lifestyle must be uprooted, and a new Divine foundation be built in its place. But where does one start? First by longing. By longing for God. This leads to prayer, a calling out for God from the darkness. Indeed, the search for a holier life will bring a person to discover two life-saving essentials of t’shuva — prayer and Torah. Prayer is man’s ladder to God.
By expressing man’s longing for his Maker, prayer builds a bridge between the physical world and the spiritual world. Once a connection has been made, man can begin to hear the “voice” of God calling back. God communicates with man through the Torah. The Torah is God’s will for the world, His plan for our lives. Discovering Torah, man discovers true light. Finally, he knows what to do. He knows how to act. With the guidelines of Torah, he learns to distinguish between good and evil, between pure and impure. In the past, his life was guided by his own ethical sense and desires, without ever knowing what was truly moral and just. Suddenly the darkness and uncertainty are gone. Anxiety vanishes. In the light of the Torah, his soul finds instant rest, secure that it has found the right path. Once again united with the Divine song of existence, he brings himself, and the whole world, closer to God.