Shlomo Ezagui

Depression vs Bitterness

The Torah underscores the importance of joy and pushes away depression. Even though inner pain, anguish, a heavy head, and a heavy heart are all considered harmful, there is a particular type of anguish considered positive— bitterness.

It is said that (depression) non-kosher meat cannot, under any circumstances, be made kosher; however, when preparing (proper ways of conduct) kosher meat, great benefit can and will be derived in the service of God when it is done properly.

Depression is not kosher. There is no redeeming value that can be drawn from it. On the other hand, bitterness is not good in and of itself, but it can lead to good things if used correctly.

It needs to be clarified how to distinguish between the two. On the surface, both depression and bitterness cause pain, agony, and constriction. The great Chassidim would say, “The distance between depression and bitterness is just a hair’s breadth, and yet the difference between the two is like the distance between heaven and earth, holiness and impurity.”

How does one distinguish between no-good depression and bitterness, which can lead to great good?

When a person is depressed, he is lethargic and steeped in his unhappiness. He wants to go to sleep and feels despondent. Depression is a form of death because he feels disconnected from his life (being alive).

On the other hand, when someone is experiencing bitterness, there is life and energy. Not the happy type, to be sure, but subtle anger, an urgency, a desire for things to be different. This has the potential to trigger improvement from the current state of affairs.

The difference between depression and bitterness is apparent in how a person reacts to life events. If a person’s house should burn down—and there was no insurance to cover his loss—this is not a happy event to dance and be joyful about. A depressed person puts his hands up in despondence and hopelessness. It is too overwhelming, and he gives up. The person bitter about what is happening will start yelling for the fire extinguishers to put the fire out.

Although he is unhappy with what is happening, he is bitter and full of energy, life, and liveliness, which moves him to constructive action.

The underlying differences between the two are fundamental.

The reason for depression is an extreme and extraordinary focus (and blame) on oneself. Everything revolves around the person himself; any shortcoming, deficiency, or mistake always comes back to that person. In depression, this self-centeredness makes the person small and insignificant, leading to depression and loneliness.

For someone who is outwardly focused on serving his Godly purpose, his mission is to seek what he may do to help and be of positive use to the world. This outward focus makes the person bigger, attached to a broader outcome that includes others, and will lead that person to a sense of achievement, self-worth, and happiness. This person can have a bitter taste when the experience is sour but uses this energy to double his/her efforts in the future.

It is impossible to overcome the evil inclination when one is lazy and heavy with depression. Only when a person is filled with life and vigor, a sense of service to the public, and joy from seeing all the good around them will they have the energy to succeed in their internal battles.

Chapter 62

About the Author
Rabbi Shlomo Ezagui is an author and lecturer. "A Spiritual Soul Book" ( & "Maimonides Advice for the 21st Century" ( In 1987, Rabbi Ezagui opened the first Chabad Center in Palm Beach County, Florida, and the first Orthodox Synagogue on the island of Palm Beach, Florida.
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