How does one overcome anxiety or depression?
Most people nowadays believe the answer is simple: Go to therapy. Spend countless hours talking about yourself and your problems will eventually go away.
A more traditional solution appears in this week’s commentary of Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch. He argues that the message of Rosh Chodesh – the very first mitzvah presented to the Jewish people – is that “G-d has given man the possibility of always being able to start afresh.”
A pagan (or materialist) doesn’t believe in this possibility. “To him everything is bound by cast-iron necessity. To him all todays are evolved from yesterdays, and every tomorrow must with absolute certainty follow from today. Just as he denies the yesh me’ayin, the free creation by the free will of a creator, [so too he denies] yesh me’ayin in the moral nature of man. Guilt and evil must for ever and ever beget only guilt and evil.”
Why are people anxious or depressed? Often because something in the recent past is incessantly bothering them, weighing them down. Rosh Chodesh teaches us that we can reset the clock. Motivational speaker Sarah Pachter calls Rosh Chodesh a “restart app.” Just as an entirely new moon emerges every month, so too we can become entirely new versions of ourselves if we will it. In fact, this message of chidush, of renewal, “forms the foundation stone of our Jewishness,” writes Rav Hirsch.
But what if the anxiety or depression results from our own behavior? Won’t our past sins catch up with us? No, writes Rav Hirsch. Not if we do teshuvah, for teshuvah is like Rosh Chodesh. It generates a rift in time. With proper teshuvah comes divine kapparah, which, Rav Hirsch writes elsewhere, literally means “protective cover” (think of the kapores that covered the aron or the kofer [pitch] that covered and protected Noah’s ark). When we do teshuvah, Hashem covers over the past and protects us from its consequences.
In other words, we have the ability to make a clean break with the past. We are not victims of “blind unalterable necessity.” Every second, we can start afresh. What a liberating message!
Elliot Resnick, PhD, is the host of “The Elliot Resnick Show” and the editor of an upcoming work on etymological explanations in Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch’s commentary on Chumash.