While pain is a necessary part of the t’shuva process, a person must be very careful not to let the pain of sin turn into depression to the extent that it weakens the will for t’shuva. Otherwise, Rabbi Kook warns, depression may spread like a malignancy throughout the body and soul. One must always keep in mind the purging affects of spiritual pain and remember that the light of atonement is already working to return the soul to its natural state of joy. Even the physical and psychic pains that often cause a person to be more introspective, whether it be disease, the loss of a loved one, or a setback in business, these too can be the springboards of t’shuva.
Ironically, depression prepares the way for the joy which the baal t’shuva discovers. To understand this deep concept, we have to understand that it is the sense of God’s majestic perfection which causes sin to be so intolerable. When a person is aware that his sadness over his sins results from the Divine light working on his soul — this recognition brings unparalleled joy and satisfaction. He feels that God is with him! He senses God’s presence! This is the spiritual happiness which accompanies the feeling of depression in the heart of the baal t’shuva. Thus the pain and melancholy which a person experiences because of his sins is, in fact, the wonderful sign that God has already turned toward him to bring him healing and joy.
Rabbi Kook discusses another source of the pain of t’shuva. When the light of t’shuva embraces a person, he is enveloped by a spirit of holiness and purity. His soul fills with a passionate love of God, and he longs for a life of honesty and moral uplifting. However, at the same time that this “born again” feeling radiates through his being, he is still trapped in the pathways of sin, and he doesn’t know how to escape from his darkness and embark on a new way of life. This frustration causes pain. Yet, the very fact that a person experiences this anguish is itself the gateway to happiness.
The will to be good, this, in itself, is a Divine wind from Gan Eden, which blows on the soul and fills it with infinite joy, to the extent that the hellish flames of deep anguish are transformed into rivers of delight (Ibid, 16:3).
The appellation baal t’shuva, or master of t’shuva, suggests a person who has successfully reached the end of the process and mastered all of its facets. Rabbi Kook, however, tells us that this is not the case at all. If a person is broken and shattered with remorse because of his sins, he is a master of t’shuva already.
If a person has such a low estimation of himself that the great bitterness in his soul, his fallen moral state, and his sins, prevent him from studying Torah and observing the commandments, from engaging in work, and interacting with people with a calm, healthy happiness, then he must believe in his heart that in feeling such depression over his sins, he is certainly, at that very moment, a total baal t’shuva. Accordingly, he has already elevated his being, and he can set his mind at rest and return to being happy and cheerful, occupying himself with goodness in a peaceful and joyous disposition, for God is good and just (Ibid, 14:23).
One of the main aspects of t’shuva is remorse. Rabbi Kook compares remorse to a flame. On the one hand, fire destroys what it contacts, while on the other hand, it gives off light and warmth. In a similar manner, the pain of remorse purges away the sins of the past, while stirring a person to a healthier, more constructive life in the future. Just as a brushfire is used to clear a field of thorns to make way for new planting, remorse clears the slate of our lives, and prepares the foundation for new growth and new life — a life filled with goodness and Torah.
The flame of remorse, when it appears in a sensitive soul through the torchlight of t’shuva, is a holy fire, a fire filled with light and warmth, filled with life. When it falls on a pure spirit, on a soul alive and illuminated with the light of grace and intelligence endowed with holy knowledge, then it is transformed into a vibrant and powerful force, an active force which cleanses and purifies, which increases courage and strength, forges pathways, and grants new spiritual power to all spheres of existence. It brings with it a new awakening filled with new life. The person becomes a new creation, refined and made pure, with a vision toward the heights, toward the loftiest horizons of knowledge and understanding, which, in turn, inspires a longing for t’shuva.