Sandra Cohen
Intelligent, funny, a bit weird

Joy Comes in the Morning

My daughter, 15 years ago, finding her way on vacation. (courtesy)

Tears may linger for the night, but joy comes in the morning. (Psalm 30)

בערב ילין בכי, ולבוקר רנה

I love this Psalm. Coming right before the Mourner’s Kaddish at the end of Birkot HaShachar (the Morning Blessings) , it is filled with these contrasts:  Gd’s anger lasts but for a moment; Gd’s love for a lifetime; You turned my mourning into dancing, You changed my sackcloth into robes of joy.

The Shechinah, the Divine Presence in our lives (the literal root of Shechinah is neighbor – the Divine In-Dwelling being, as it were, Gd who lives next door to us)– is redemptive.  When we, or at least when I, experience the possibility of Gd, the glimmer of faith, joy does indeed come In the morning.

I do not expect to feel Gd’s nearness every time I reach out to the Holy One.  In some ways, I guess, that would be too easy.  But when I have that consistent reaching – a regular prayer life, lighting candles each Shabbat, blessing before and after I eat, gasping the blessing at the unexpected rainbow or thunderbolt – these all leave room for Gd to enter.  And even when Gd does not seem near, I experience not so much a complete absence as a glimmer of what was, Gd’s “afterwards,” as it were – the sense that Gd was here, or might be here in the future.

And that, often, is enough.  Like everyone, I have times of tears and despair, weeping at the difficulties life throws at us – mourning those I have loved and lost, lamenting opportunities lost and sorrowing for the hurts of my past.  And these times of sackcloth are real and not to be underestimated.  To be a human is to undergo the full range of human experiences, painful as well as blissful; being present to those emotions is what allows us to move through them:  “tears linger for the night and joy comes in the mourning. “  And Gd is present through all of it.

And yet. .

There is the other part of the Psalm as well : “ Favor me and I am a mountain of strength; Hide your face, HaShem, and I am terrified.”

I suffer from depression.

That sentence is such an understatement.  I don’t know how to fix it.  This Psalm tells the story of my life:  When I feel better, the tears are mostly gone and I experience not just joy, not just the ability to dance once more, but the possibility of Gd’s Presence returns.  I re-enter the cycle of nearness to, and reaching for, Gd’s Face.  I understand once again that, while Gd is not always close, Gd is always there for me.

But when the depression returns, and it always does, Gd’s Face is hidden.  This is also an understatement.  It Is not that Gd feels far away.  It is that when I reach out towards the Divine Presence, I find myself on the edge of an abyss so vast and dark as to unimaginable.  Prayer becomes not just useless, but dangerous; I do not wish to fall further into that darkness; I am already there.

Why would Gd hide Gd’s own Presence, Gd’s Face, Gd’s Self, just when I need the Shechinah the most?  It is like going next door, to my reliable neighbor, not to borrow sugar or talk about the kids, but to seek solace, to ask for help while my grip on reality feels tenuous – and it is not just that the neighbor isn’t home, but that the house has been torn down overnight, and all there is left is a pile of apparently useless garbage.  Where to go next?  I am, as the Psalmist wrote, terrified.

I know where to go, of course.  I have an incredibly supportive family, wonderful friends, a faithful care team – they all sit with me and remind me I will come through this latest episode.  They hold faith for me when I do not experience faith.  They believe in hope, and I believe in them, even as, during the deepest darkness of pain, I believe in almost nothing.

And yet. . . as surely as the depression  returns, so does it inevitably recede.  Not quickly, but eventually, even if, in the midst of it, I cannot imagine life ever improving.  But Psalm 30 is my Psalm for a reason:  joy comes the morning.  The night might be long, longer than the mourning, longer than I can bear, but morning will surely come, and with it, joy and dancing.

About the Author
Rabbi Sandra Cohen teaches rabbinic texts, provides pastoral care, and works in mental health outreach, offering national scholar-in-residence programs. She and her husband live in Denver, Colorado.
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