I would like to discuss something so prevalent, so vital, that it has affected our communities, in the most devastating way, Depression. Unfortunately, it’s quite common perhaps because of the high expectation that we have to live by. Keeping up with the Jones and the Schwartz’s can be quite challenging and therefore our responsibilities and commitments assume humongous proportions as we flounder in a sea of questions, misery and pain. Often there is the feeling that life isn’t worth living.
Furthermore, as a generation, we have become very psychologically sophisticated. Terms such as: psychotic, neurotic, depressed, suicidal, anxious, and Freudian color our expressions lending them distinct meanings. Prozac, Zoloft and more Psycho pills are filling our cabinets, glove compartments and making my pharmaceutical salesperson – friend rich, Yes, I know you’re reading this. This is what this country has become.
This is probably the most ideal time to present this important subject matter considering the upcoming parshiot which we will be reading in the next few months indicate depression in the air.
The Karliner Rebbe (1740-1792) was one to say, “Depression is not a sin – but the sins depression brings about are greater than any sin on its own.” When the fog of depression falls over one’s heart, all growth in is in jeopardy!!!
It should be noted that the prime directive which the Torah emphasizes is spiritual growth which is brought upon through positive energy.
Depression infuses a lack of hope; it instills a lack of belief in oneself; it’s debilitating and at times can lead to the most devastating unforgiving acts possible.
For two months during the summer, we read parsha after parsha that relates troubling episodes about the attitudes and behavior of our ancestors in the Wilderness.
Beha’aloscha, Shelach, Korach, Chukat, Balak, Pinchas, and Mattot-Massei contain incident after incident in which the pioneers of our nation acted in a manner unbecoming of the “Dor Deah” [“Generation of Knowledge”] which they were supposed to represent. In these parshiyot, the Torah describes sin following sin, complaint following complaint, rebellion following rebellion. “If this can happen to the generation that received the Torah at Sinai, what hope is there for us?”
The Torah tries to ease the sting by placing unusual upside down appearance of two letter ‘Nun’s which bracket the pasukim [verses] “When the Ark would journey, Moshe said ‘Arise, Hashem, and let Your enemies be scattered and let those who hate You flee from before You.’ And when it rested, he would say, ‘Reside tranquilly G-d among the myriads and thousands of Israel.'” [Bamdibar 10:35-36].
The reason why it was placed here was to put separation between the “first account of punishment” and the “second account of punishment” (to relieve the gloomy impact of an otherwise unbroken narration of one punishment after another, which is depressing) [Shabbat 115b].
I heard a profound insight by Rabbi Akiva Grunblatt – the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Chaffetz Chaim, which, I believe, you, the reader can either be the recipient or the one suggesting the profound knucklehead statement.
The Rabbi’s father – Rabbi Joseph Grunblatt z’l was the Rabbi of the Queens Jewish Center – a large community in Forest Hills which consisted of many Jews from various backgrounds.
Please listen to this and ask yourself if this sounds familiar. Many years ago, Rabbi Akiva was having a conversation, with an individual apparently not as observant then him. The conversation centered on movies. The individual excitingly suggested some of the “must films” to see. However, he back tracked on some of the suggestions stating “I really loved that movie but you can’t see it…that one it’s not for you”. In other words what he was implying is, I can see it because I’m a lost cause; I’m done already, therefore there are two set of rules; I’ve done so many bad averot (sins) that there is no hope for me, but you, you’re still okay with the Creator. As a matter of fact it would be, to a large extent, at this juncture of my life, chutzpah for me to ask forgiveness from G-d. So I’ll just drag my feet in the mud, live in my cesspool and watch the movies for I’m not worthy.
We see from this individual and from the Israelites in these parshiot that they pursued the “pleasures of life”. But what paved the way was “a no hope, I’m doomed anyway” feeling.
One has to realize a fundamental and very important aspect of Judaism that many overlook, which we learn from the onset of learning the ABC of Torah!!! When we received the Torah attached to the intro is the statement ASHER HOTZEHTI ETCHEM M’ERETZ MITZRAIM – which I took you out from the land of Egypt. Apparently, that the Jews – our ancestors were in such a condition that they were the lowest spiritual level ever. They were in the 49th level – one above the last 50th which would deem them lost forever, and yet G-d forgave and redeemed them, elevating them to a nation status. The gravity of the statement is implying one can always return!!! As a matter of fact it is saying it, purposely, right in the introduction. One can read between the lines and understand as long as one’s alive he can’t give up on himself; the door is always open.
G-d provides us with an open window to come back which is in contrast to the “no hope depression” feeling that one at times develops. Perhaps, there is another dimension to G-d being labeled our Father. HE is the irrefutable, beyond compare role model for all parents for He exercises patience to the highest degree.
Our forefather, Avraham, was known for his hospitality. Once, an 86 year old traveling man was an unexpected invited guest staying for Shabbat. After encouragement to say the Grace after meal – acknowledging G-d – was refused by the old man. Avraham, frustrated, after the third meal, asked the man to leave. That night G-d appeared to Avraham and asked him “how was your day and tell me all about the guest that came over Shabbat”. Avraham went through the list and then mentioned that he asked the old man to leave after he was unappreciative and refused to acknowledge where the food really came from. G-d answered Him “Avraham, I waited 86 years for him to acknowledge, you couldn’t wait a weekend?” Immediately, Avraham went to fetch the old man and pleaded to return.
We learn from an old pro on how to fight depression and how one can one take out the heavy feeling from his heart?
The valuable lesson comes from King David and his masterpiece work -Tehillim. In the onset of Tehilim, it tells how King David approached teshuva-repentance and depression, and how we can learn, in practical terms, the art of repentance from him and how to come back. As we come to the third psalm, imagine for a moment King David’s situation. There are hardships, and there are hardships. The author of Tehillim can tell us a thing or two about such matters. We see King David being pursued by his own son, who wants to dethrone him. Worse, the majority of the populace supports the coup. Most depressing of all, much of this is due to David’s own mistakes.
Things couldn’t seem any darker. Yet we find him lifting up his voice to G-d with great poignancy. He starts his prayer with the words, “A song by David”. A song always expresses joy. With these first words of the psalm, we can begin to understand how he could not only survive such a shock but also grow from it.
Rav Shlomo Freifeld, zt”l, was an expert in giving encouragement to people in despair. One of his favorite lines was “Don’t be strong. Be great.” When life throws one of its curves at you, you can be strong, biting your tongue and bearing it stoically. That may get you through the hardship, but you haven’t gained anything other than a sore tongue. On the other hand, if you choose to accept what was sent your way and work through it, if you stretch every sinew of your soul to learn from the adversity, you can achieve greatness.
David cries out in pain, “How numerous are my tormentors! The great rise up against me!” His ache is palpable, and still he sings because his faith in G-d gives him the courage to turn adversity into a learning experience.
The fundamental root of turning adversity into a learning experience is found in the beginning of Bereshit. .
From this seminal passage we see that darkness proceeded light. In order for light to exist, it had to be created. It didn’t exist on its own. The adversity (darkness) which King David experienced was turned into a learning experience (light). And even when light was created, it was still mixed together with darkness and had to be separated from it..
One has to face life ready to accept challenges realizing that darkness and all its problems inevitably must be transformed to light – the learning experience. Only then will prevention from depression take place. This is one of the first lessons we can derive from the Torah, from the darkness of Egypt G-d transformed us into a nation. If we show HIM an interest – the size of a needle, HE’LL open the gates to the palace showering us with the bracha – the size of an ocean!