Eliezer Shemtov
Trying to make a difference

Bereshit: If only…


The two ailments that most afflict and paralyze humanity today —and increasingly so—are anxiety and depression. According to the World Health Organization, more than 300,000,000 people worldwide presently suffer from depression.

As a matter of fact, in our nocturnal prayers —penned thousands of years ago— we ask G-d to “remove Satan from in front of us and from behind us”. Perhaps the authors foresaw our reality. The most effective tools Satan has to paralyze us are fear of what awaits us in the future (anxiety) and remorse for what we did or didn’t do in the past (depression).

There are no one-size-fits-all solutions. Each of the three hundred million is a world unto him or herself, and each situation requires its own assessment, diagnosis and treatment. There are, however, tools that can help everyone in one way or another, in addition to the specific professional care they may need.

In this new weekly series I hope to explore the weekly Bible reading and share teachings that can serve as “tools” to help us improve our moods as well as those of our loved ones.

I invite you, dear reader, to join me on this fascinating journey. Your feedback will be more than welcome.



If only…

Have you ever thought to yourself: “If only I had this or that thing or situation, I would be happy…”?

It’s usually a fallacious reasoning. Joy does not depend on what we have or do not have, but on how we perceive what we have and do not have.

What better example than Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden? Did they lack anything? They managed, nevertheless, to complicate themselves on their own. There was only one tree whose fruits G-d had forbidden them to enjoy and they could not resist the temptation! And to make matters even worse, according to one of the opinions of our tradition, the tree in question was the vine and they had to abstain from its fruits for only a few hours until the Shabbat began, make the Kidush over the wine and thus inaugurate an eternal Shabbat. Why couldn’t they resist?

It is human nature to want precisely that which one cannot have and not to value that which one does have.

It seems unbelievable – though it happens all too often – but when G-d rebuked Adam for having eaten from the tree, he blamed “the woman you gave to be with me” [1] for having offered him to eat from the tree. How ungrateful! G-d had given him a woman because he saw how much he suffered to be alone [2] and instead of appreciating the treasure he had, he let himself be distracted by what he didn’t have…

The Rebbe, may his merit shield us, in a letter [3] to an individual who had written to him complaining about life, writes:

“In the world in which we live, everything contains a mixture of good and evil. Man must choose which aspect he wants to emphasize, contemplate and pursue…

“How instructive it is that what our sages tell us that Adam was ungrateful. Even before he was expelled from the Garden of Eden (finding himself in Paradise, literally), he complained about his reality.

“On the other hand, there were Jewish men and women who thanked and blessed the Creator, reciting the morning blessings each day while living in the most atrocious conditions of the German concentration camps. Ultimately, each individual’s circumstances will lie somewhere between these two extremes.

“My goal is not to admonish him, but to highlight a reality: the kind of life we live, whether it will be full of satisfaction and meaning or the opposite, depends, to a great extent, on our desire, whether we place the emphasis on the positive or the negative.”

We are able to complain about conditions in paradise as well as feel gratitude in the most inhumane conditions of a concentration camp hell.

One of the Rebbe’s personal assistants, Rabbi Berl Junik, related how the Rebbe once confided in him saying: “I worked on myself to always see things in a positive light; otherwise I would not have been able to survive. [4] Knowing the personal suffering of all kinds that the Rebbe went through, as well as those of the thousands who shared their personal situations with him, one can appreciate that achieving such a perspective is no small accomplishment….

So this week’s “tool” is the following reflection: Are the circumstances of your life good or bad regardless of how you look at them or are they a consequence of it and  a change of attitude will be reflected in the reality you see?

1] Genesis 3:12.
2] Talmud, Avodah Zara 5b and Rashi’s commentary.

3] Igrot Kodesh vol. 20, p. 41.

4] Quoted in the Introduction to Positivity Bias, published by

About the Author
Rabbi Eliezer Shemtov, born in in Brooklyn, NY in 1961. Received Smicha From Tomchei Temimim in 1984 and shortly after was sent by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, may his merit shield us, together with his wife Rachel to establish the first Beit Chabad in Montevideo, Uruguay and direct Chabad activities in that country. He has authored many articles on Judaism that have been published internationally. Since publishing his popular book on intermarriage, "Dear Rabbi, Why Can't I Marry Her?" he has authored several books in Spanish, English and Hebrew dealing with the challenges that the contemporary Jew has to deal with.
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