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Before making Aliyah to Israel, Tzvi Fishman was a Hollywood screenwriter. He has co-authored 4 books with Rabbi David Samson, based on the teachings of Rabbi Kook, Eretz Yisrael, Art of T'shuva, War and Peace, and Torat Eretz Yisrael.
This blog is for serious people who want to take advantage of the uniqueness of Elul, when Hashem comes out of His palace to meet with all those who seek Him. Once again, we are posting a section from our book "The Art of T'shuva" on Rabbi Kook's incredibly illuminating writings on the amazing phenomena of t'shuva. The book can be obtained at https://www.createspace.com/3595479. It's the cheapest price we could make it, and our profit on each book couldn't even buy half a hot dog, so don't think I'm pushing it to get rich. Enjoy.
THE PAIN AND THE JOY OF BIRTH
We have mentioned the bitterness and pain that accompanies the early stages of t’shuva. When people begin to enter the realm of t’shuva, they start to experience a fear, an uncertainty, an inner anguish and pain. While this unpleasant aspect of t’shuva is quickly overshadowed and forgotten in the baal t’shuva’s pursuant great joy, it is a necessary step in the process. Recognizing its value and purging effect can help the penitent weather the stormy seas he must travel. The knowledge that the sun is shining just behind the clouds can give him the strength to continue. In the same way that a woman soon forgets the agonies of childbirth in the happiness of being a mother, the baal t’shuva quickly forgets the “labor pains” of t’shuva in the great joy of his rebirth.
“T’shuva does not come to embitter life, but rather to make it more pleasant. The joy of life which comes from t’shuva evolves from the waves of bitterness which the soul wrestles with in the beginning of the t’shuva process. However, this marks the higher, creative valor which knows that sweetness stems from bitterness, life from death, eternal delight from infirmity and pain” (Orot HaT’shuva, 16:6).
When you first swallow aspirin tablets, there is a small taste of bitterness in the mouth. So too, in the initial stages of t’shuva, the first explorations of one’s inner world can cause uncomfortable feelings. However, as one continues on the path of inner cleansing, one discovers a great happiness in knowing that he is doing what he was created to do — to get closer to G-d.
The process is not that at first you are sad and then you are happy. Rabbi Kook teaches that you are happy from being sad. It is the bitterness itself that causes the joy. One’s suffering makes one realize that the t’shuva is sincere.
Some people are overwhelmed by the mountain of sin which seems to confront them as they begin to set their lives in order. How can they deal with so many transgressions? How can they ever make the drastic changes needed to live a holy, ethical life? Rabbi Kook reassures us that this feeling Is a very good sign. It is a sign that the person has already broken free of his previous material perspective and is ready to consider a more spiritual life.
In the same way, Rabbi Kook tell us that if you are hurting inside, that is a sign of spiritual health. It’s a sign that your inner self recognizes that it does not belong to an environment of sin. Feeling pain over the sins of the past is an important part of the t’shuva process (Laws of T’shuva, 2:6). It goes hand-in-hand with a commitment to a life of good deeds in the future.
The pain and anxiety associated with the first thoughts of t’shuva evolve, in part, from the need to separate from former ways. Just as an operation to remove a cancerous tumor from the body is accompanied by pain, so too is t’shuva. However, the pain is a sign that a healing process is underway. An amputation hurts, but sometimes it is needed to save a person’s life. Before the operation, the patient is wary. His leg may be gangrene, but it still is his leg. What will he be like without it? Will he be the same man? How will he function?
These are all natural, legitimate, and very distressing questions. The unknown can be scary. So too, when a person has become used to a part of his psyche, even if it be some negative trait which is detrimental to his inner well-being, it is not easy to escape from its clutches. Already it has become a citizen of his soul. Breaking away from the past and being open to change is not a simple task. Great inner courage is needed. Often, it can only be done with the help of a teacher or guide (Mesillat Yesharim, Ch.3). In effect, in unveiling the step-by-step process of t’shuva, Rabbi Kook is giving us a map to assist us on the way.
“The pain experienced upon the initial thought of t’shuva derives from the severance from evil dispositions which cannot be corrected while they are organically attached to the person and damaging all of his being. T’shuva uproots the evil aspects of the spirit and returns it to its original essence. Every separation causes pain, like the amputation of a diseased organ for medical purposes. However, it is through these deep inner afflictions that a person is freed from the dark bondage of his sins and base inclinations, and from all of their bitter influences” (Orot HaT’shuva, 8:1).
THE DISHARMONY OF SIN
Delving one step deeper, Rabbi Kook explains that the pain of sin results from the disharmony it causes between the soul and the essential goodness of life and the universe. Because an individual’s soul is attached to the soul of all existence, when a person falls into the darkness of sin, his soul is cut off from the positive Divine plan for the world and it experiences the pain of exile.
“Every transgression torments the heart because it severs the unity between the individual and all of existence.. The basis of the pain which he feels does not stem from the specific trans- gression itself, but from the deeper essence of the sin which has alienated the soul from the natural order of life, which radiates with a Divine moral light that fills the world with unity and higher purpose” (Ibid, 8:3).
Rabbi Kook tells us that the true underlying pain of sin does not come from, for example, feeling remorse over having stolen, but from the alienation from G-d which the sin causes. An individual’s sins cut him off from the symphony of Creation. While the world is progressing forward on a developmental path of elevation and perfection, his sins are taking him backward. All of society, culture, medicine, and general human endeavor are going forward, improving, becoming more moral, and he is enmeshed in sin. It may be that the individual is unaware of this spiritual imbalance, but his soul feels rent asunder. It senses its disharmony, disunity, and disconnection from life’s ongoing yearning for justice and goodness. Severed from the inner, spiritual dimension of life, a person suffers anxiety, anguish, and loneliness, in the many forms they take, including depression, neuroses, and disease. Though he may surround himself with hundreds of people, though he occupy himself day and night with business, family, and pleasure, he is a secretly tormented soul, a revolver ready to go off.
The remedy, Rabbi Kook teaches, is t’shuva. Only t’shuva can reconnect the sinner with G-d. Only t’shuva can restore the harmony between a man’s soul and the world. Only t’shuva can wipe away the sins which prevent a man from being a positive contributor to life.
NO NEED FOR DESPAIR
Rabbi Kook’s level after level exploration into the psychology of sin does not end in despair, but in peace and salvation. Rabbi Kook 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 (Orot HaT’shuva, 8:15).
“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 L-rd his G_d” (Ibib, 8:16).
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 cancer 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, G-d forbid, or a setback in business, these too can be the springboards of t’shuva.
DEPRESSION — THE SOURCE OF JOY
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 G-d’s majestic per- fection 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 G-d is with him! He senses G-d’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 G-d has already turned toward him to bring him healing and joy (Ibid, 15:9).
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 G-d, and he longs for a life of honesty and moral upliftment. 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).
A TOTAL BAAL T’SHUVA
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 G-d is good and just” (Ibid, 14:23).