I did something immoral, and I feel terrible about it.
I asked for forgiveness from the person I harmed, and it has been granted; and I asked G‑d for forgiveness as well.
Yet, thinking about what I have done, I still have this bad feeling. How do I not fall into depression because of this wrong thing I did?
Dealing with past wrongdoings is one of the greatest issues for one who is constantly striving to be a better person morally, spiritually and Jewishly. It can be difficult to move forward when there is so much baggage from the past. This issue is tackled by many Jewish thinkers. In his work, the Tanya, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi discusses how to deal with one’s past misdeeds (in chapter 31). He differentiates between two types of sorrow for sins.
The first is called atzvut, and it is what we might refer to as depression. It’s a state of melancholy in which the individual is down and out. One does not focus on details; rather, one is just immersed in a giant pool of misery. Think of a person who sleeps in, in no mood to face the world and its obstacles.
But then there is what’s called merirut. Here too there’s grief, but it is focused on what occurred and how that can be repaired. Think of someone who is in the process of soul-searching and who, feeling terrible about his or her failings, makes a plan of action to rectify them.
To an onlooker, atzvut and merirut might look identical. However, once the mourning period ends, the differences are striking.
Atzvut, even over one’s spiritual failings, leads one to further spiritual decline. Merirut, on the other hand, is followed by better behavior, and even joy.
Take, for example, someone who overeats. Even the highly disciplined sometimes fail in their quest to control their eating habits. We all know that if one becomes depressed about one’s lack of control, the result is often continued indulgence in unhealthy eating habits, and maybe even a decline. However, when one recognizes that everyone fails sometimes, then, rather than being depressed, one can believe that next time he or she will do what is right, or act with more self-control.
So how does a person approach their misdeeds?
First, one needs to recognize that atzvut is not the correct path to take. We need to train ourselves to recognize the difference between good regret and the kind that shleps one into further depression.
Two, one needs to recognize that if one is struck by depressing thoughts in middle of the day for something he or she did wrong, those thoughts come from the evil inclination. That inclination wants the person to feel depressed, because that causes the person to do more sins.
So, how does one repent? Rabbi Schneur Zalman explains that a person needs to delegate a time to feel bad for his or her sins. This is usually the time before one goes to sleep. Think about what you did that day, and how tomorrow will be a new day, with the opportunity to be a better human being.
Now, taking this approach will not come easy; it is a constant battle. But G‑d stands by our side, and when the will is there, one can overcome these negative feelings, and repent in a way that even brings joy.
See our section The Tanya—The “One Size Fits All” Life Manual.
Rabbi Yisroel Cotlar
Ask the Rabbi @ The Judaism Website—Chabad.org