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Beit Midrash The Art of T'shuva

Chapter Eleven

Chapter 11

Who's Afraid Of T’shuva?

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THE PAIN OF BIRTH
The Art of T'shuva (20)
Rabbi David Samson
10 - HAPPINESS NOW
11 - Who's Afraid Of T’shuva?
12 - Success
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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 oft’shuva is quickly overshadowed and forgotten in the baalt’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 baalt’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’shuvaevolves 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."


When you first swallow aspirin tablets, there is a small taste of bitterness in the mouth. So too, in the initial stages oft’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 of nervousness 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. 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 oft’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’slife. 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. 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’shuvaderives 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 sin sand base inclinations, and from all of their bitter influences."

CHEESEBURGERS
Let’s say a person wants to do away with a tendency to get angry. He realizes that his temper is a negative trait. He sees that it causes both himself and other people harm. But he is so accustomed to reacting with anger when things don’t go his way, he finds it very difficult to change. Anger has become apart of his personality. It’s one of the tools that he uses to deal with the world. It is so much a part of him, he often walks around with a scowl on his face. Thus, to give up this part of his character would involve a real loss. Since loss causes grief and frustration, his efforts to give up his anger make him even angrier than he was at the start. He fears that parting with his anger will leave him utterly defenseless. This feeling frustrates him even more until he is ready to really explode.

Another example will help us understand the pain that is associated with loss. The lover of cheeseburgers who realizes that he has to give up his favorite food to comply with the Jewish dietary laws will feel a sense of great stress. He lives on cheeseburgers. He loves cheeseburgers. All of his free time is centered around cheeseburgers. At his early stage of t’shuva, before he has encountered the ecstasy of discovering G-d and Torah, his sense of spiritual delight is not so keenly developed that he can easily do away with the material pleasure which cheeseburger-eating provides. Thus the very thought that cheeseburgers will no longer be a part of his life causes him pain.

While the example of an amputation helps us understand the pain of separation, a distinction between amputation andt’shuva must be made. Amputation removes all of the malignant limb, whereas t’shuva removes only the cancer. The cut of t’shuva is clean. No good cells are lost. After the incision is made, and a person decides to free himself from all of the negative aspects surrounding his soul, after he makes the cut, no organ is missing. Just the opposite occurs. He has gained in the process. Cut loose from the shackles of sin, he discovers incredible new energy and strength in cleaving to G-d.

Thus, when a person approaches t’shuva, the very first stage involves saying good-bye to some of his old emotional and psychological buddies, and this naturally causes remorse.

FEAR OF RETRIBUTION
In addition to the pain caused by fears of separation and change, when a person begins a process of honest introspection into his spiritual life, a great fear of retribution arises. Confronting the darkness of his life, he is terrified of the blinding light at the end of the tunnel. He feels naked, sullen with sin, guilty,and deserving of punishment. Frightened, he often turns away.Terrified of the ghosts that he has discovered, he slams down the lid of the chest. He continues in his old ways, unchanged.Even though his sins are hurting him inside, the familiar pain,he decides, is more comfortable than the retribution he deserves.Yet if he had only gone forward, he would have discovered that the great light which frightened him was not the fire of Hades,but rather G-d’s transcendental kindness, which is always waiting to embrace the returnee with the gift of His love.

In analyzing the angst associated with t’shuva, Rabbi Kook reveals that this pain does not stem from the prospect of retribution, as the person believes, but rather from the pain of the soul itself.

"The great pains which fill the psyche at the thought oft’shuva, even though it sometimes seems that they are caused by the fear of retribution, are in truth, the sufferings of the soul because it is infested with sin, a state of being which is contrary to its pure, spiritual essence. It is these sufferings themselves,however, which cleanse the soul. The person who inwardly recognizes the treasure of goodness contained in these pains, accepts them with absolute love and peace of mind. In this way,he is elevated to many new heights; the Torah he learns stays with him; and his character is perfected. The effects of his sins on his soul are not only erased, but actually transformed into harbingers of good, radiating with a spiritual splendor."

Thus the fear and pain which people initially encounter when they set out on the journey of t’shuva stems from several different causes, one deeper than the next. First, there is the fear of change and with having to part with old ways. Then there is a deeper fear of G-d’s punishment. However, Rabbi Kook explains that this fear of hell is really a projection. It is not the pain of purgatory which is felt, but rather the pain of sin itself.Sin is anathema to the soul. It is not an inherent part of man’sconstitution. The soul is revolted by sin. It cries out in anguish.Unable to cope with his spiritual pain, man projects his inner turmoil onto something else, something outside of his life, onto little red devils and the torments of hell. This helps him to live with himself, to cover up the teeming spider nest inside him and say, "I’m really OK. It is G-d and His nasty devils who have the problem."

THE DISHARMONY OF SIN
Delving one step deeper, Rabbi Kook explains that the pain of sin results from the disharmony it causes between the sou land the essential goodness of life and the universe. Because anindividual’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 transgression 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 all of the world with unity and higher purpose."

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 fromlife’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’shuvacan 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.

MEN IN BLACK
Should an individual choose a life of sin, G-d forbid, rather than a life of t’shuva, a terrible darkness envelopes his soul, and his thoughts, aspirations, and character become seeped in evil.These people are the wicked of the world who see the world Ianthe dark colors which mirror their soul. These are the cynics who find fault in everything, the irreverent who complain against G-d.

Lacking the will to escape his dungeon of sin, cut off from the world’s future of goodness, the wicked cower behind defensive masks of scorn. They are like the sour notes of a symphony, the coughs in the theater, the laughter in the balcony,the Nietzsche's and Nazis of the world, who condemn the ideals which they cannot obtain. Too weak to escape the clutches of sin, they become its propounds.

The fear that accompanies the awakenings of t’shuva is what keeps people imprisoned in darkness. It is a fear that grips whole nations. Rather than acknowledge that their cultures are based on falsehood and evil, entire civilizations cling to their delusions and myths. Instead of embracing the light of G-d, the world pays mere lip service, hiding behind one brand of paganism or another.

WE CAN ALL BE RIGHTEOUS!
Existential pain is not only experienced by those far from G-d, but also by the righteous. A tzaddik who dedicates his whole life to fostering goodness, can also fall out of harmony with existence. Because his soul is so sensitive to evil, he reacts to every small transgression with grief and despair. Perhaps his intention in doing a good deed was not on the proper level.Perhaps he failed to maintain concentration throughout all of his prayers. To the extent that he fails to be pure in all of his actions, emotions, and thoughts, his soul experiences and calls out for t’shuva. He longs to be closer to G-d, to be reunited with the harmony of existence.

Rabbi Kook explains that the pain of the righteous person stems not only from his own personal shortcomings. Even if he were to be sinless, he would still feel the pain of the universal soul as it longs for a higher connection to G-d. Because of the unity of all existence, as long as the world is darkened with sin,the tzaddik suffers too. He feels the absence of Divine light Ianthe world, and the pain of the exiled Shekhina. He carries the pain of the world in his soul, and he expresses, with all of his being, all of his organs, all of his strength, the world’s longing for G-d. Because he embodies the sufferings of the world, when he is forgiven, the world is forgiven with him.

Rabbi Kook has further good news. We all can be righteous!

"Every person who deeply feels the remorse of t’shuva and the inner turmoil to redress his wrongdoings, both those which he can readily mend, and those which he hopes to address, with G-d’s help, in the future - he should include himself with the righteous whose thoughts of t’shuva renew the entire world with a new light."

Rabbi Yaacov Filber, in his study of Orot HaT’shuva, explains that a person should aim to be precisely like those tzaddikim who renew the world with a new light. These are the tzaddikim who long for, not only personal completion, but even more fervently, for the perfection of all of the world.

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.

"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 outproduce 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."

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, 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 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 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.

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."

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."

REMORSE
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 brush fire 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.

"Rays of light will come to him from the light of Mashiach,from the root of the Torah and all of the commandments, from all of the good deeds and all of the character traits, to illuminate his dark paths and his barren ways. And together with hi sown building, he will build an edifice for the world, and many will walk by his light, which at first was lit for himself - alight for one and for a multitude of people, And thou shalt be called, the repairer of the breach, the restorer of paths to dwell in."

THE TRUE HEROES
Simply put, to the initiate, the pain that comes with t’shuvais scary. While many people look at the Baal t’shuva as an insecure person who has run away from the challenges of life, the very opposite is true. The Baal t’shuva is the man of courage. He is the true hero. He is the one prepared to set out on the greatest journey in life. He begins by saving himself and ends up by saving the world.
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