The infamous Shabbtai Zvi was a complex character. As figurehead of the great mystical messianic movement in the 17th century, scholars believe he actually suffered from manic depression, which would explain his trademark bi-polar behavior between crazed enthusiasm and afflicted melancholy. His ‘condition’ was interpreted in his own lifetime by Nathan of Gaza, the household prophet. These mood swings were a manifestation of his unique spiritual calling, to fall into reclusive sorrow meant delving deep into the realm of evil and penetrating it, thus extracting divine particles of light trapped within. Releasing those holy sparks served no less than restoring the order of history and creation for ultimate redemption. Perhaps not all of his case was a lost cause? Perhaps there is a lesson we can learn, an insight to keep from this tragic messianic figure who spent so much time moping and singing?
In Judaism a subtle concept runs through the prayers and other traditional texts with the phrase the yoke of the kingdom of heaven. The Torah and God’s providence are imagined as a burden that each man must carry individually and corporately. In effect, this can be used paradoxically to spiritualize hardship. We use concepts in our minds to shed light on negative things in life. Through the power of hope and meaning we are able to stand on our feet. Spiritual people can apply this kind of spiritual thought to reconsider and anguish. Not only does God comfort you when you are down but He is the essence of your burden, which just turned into a virtue and even mystical mission. From a slightly more rationalistic perspective, anguish enables one to discern what is wrong in the world and make a difference. Sadness is a sensitivity and a source of creativity. It leads to discernment, which fosters zeal and ramifications.