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My Rav Kook
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#45 Depression: Unprocessed Sadness
8Collections 4:40; Glimmerings of Penitence 8:12

[During the process of repentance] we must be very wary of sadness,

but not with [a vigilance] so powerful

that it prevents Teshuva-light from penetrating to the full depth of the soul,

for then depression spreads like a malignant disease to all corners of the body and soul;1

[this is] because [unilluminated, unprocessed] sin pains the heart,

and causes sadness to settle in permanently on top of the feverish bitterness of Teshuva’s blaze,

which, while it does have parts that are painful, these [painful parts] are like a purifying fire:

they clarify the soul2, they strengthen her,

and ground her firmly in the natural, constant joy that is her destiny.3

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Footnotes

  1. Rav Kook is distinguishing Teshuva, which is a healing process that includes some sadness and pain, from depression, which is a paralyzing condition resulting from sadness and anger left unexperienced, unexpressed, and unexplored: split-off parts of the self that have not yet been newly appraised, re-understood and embraced through the Teshuva process. Rav Kook uses one word – ‘atzvut – which I divide into two – sadness and depression – to ease comprehension of the etiology he is describing. Sigmund Freud’s 1917 article Mourning and Melancholia (melancholia is the old name for depression) makes just this case for the etiology of depression in unprocessed loss, unexperienced grief and anger, which when raised to consciousness and processed, can lead to new integration and wholeness. Back to text
  2. Metzarfim ’et haNeshama. Rav Kook is using a word, tz-r-f, with origins in metallurgy, meaning ‘to smelt, to refine, to purge the dross from by using very high temperatures.’ It is related to tz-r-b (to scorch) and sin-r-f (to burn), indicating that heat is inherent to the process which results in a pure substance with no admixtures. Tz-r-f also refers to soldering metal, fusing together pieces that were previously separate. Back to text
  3. haSimcha haRe’uya la. In Post-Biblical Hebrew, the passive participle of r-’a-y, to see, means ‘seemly, fit, [well-]chosen, worthy, predestined’ (e.g., Shabbat 89b, Ra’uy haya Ya‘akov…: Jacob was destined to go down into Egypt in iron chains but his virtues were the reason [it happened with honor]). Back to text
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