Yakov Saacks
Yakov Saacks

THE KABBALAH OF DEPRESSION

We were doing such a great job of squashing the Covid virus in 2021. The months of May and June brought optimism and hope that we could actually beat this virus back. Then, unfortunately, the Delta variant struck back with a vengeance, and it seems that much of the traction gained in our battle has been mitigated by this rapid spreading scourge.

Disappointing to say the least. Maddening is more like it.

DISAPPOINTMENT

Admittedly, there is no way not to feel many negative emotions about the new round of Covid, and the havoc and misery it brings. However, we must be careful that our disappointment does not lead to despondency or worse.

Many people work through their disappointment and move on with their lives, while others let it fester until it leads them into a black hole of despair, which completely and utterly wrecks their lives. The real problem with depression is that it leads the afflicted person nowhere and accomplishes nothing.

God created us with various emotions, and each emotion can be used for the positive or the negative.

PASSION

Passion is a great example. Being highly obsessive and passionate about the latest goings on in Hollywood seems to be a solid waste of highly charged energy. However, being passionately in love with one’s spouse is an excellent reason to expend energy. Parenthetically, being passionate about someone else’s spouse is completely inappropriate.

ANGER

Even anger, which is completely looked down upon in Judaism, does have one redeeming quality that I can think of. If anger gets the person motivated to do something about their particular plight, then this anger is completely redeemable.

JEALOUSY

We don’t think of jealousy as a good trait. In fact, jealousy is such a common negative trait that God added the law not to be jealous in the Ten Commandments. The Mishna states however, that it is okay for a scholar to be jealous of another scholar’s depth and breadth of study, as it will inspire him/her to acquire more wisdom.

DEPRESSION

So, as you can see most things that we humans experience can be elevated or downgraded depending on what we do with it. Depression on the other hand, does not seem to have any redeeming value. It does not inspire the person to do something. On the contrary, depression can lead one to a catatonic state of being, unable to move out of bed. Depression takes and does not give. Depression is a one-way street that ends in a cul-de-sac. I think it is fair to say that of all human emotions, depression is the most destructive. The early Chassidic rabbis used to say, “Depression is not a sin, but it can take you to places lower than any sin can take you.”

HOW TO RID ONE OF DEPRESSION

Let me be clear, the following thoughts are not a substitution for medication. Often there is a physical issue that causes depression, and just like a physical illness needs medication, a mental ailment may need medication as well. One should never take oneself off of medication unilaterally. Always consult with a knowledgeable doctor.

There are a few ways to help with one’s depression and they are gleaned from various sources.

MEANING

A life of meaning is a life worth living. Try to do something meaningful like volunteering at a hospital, animal shelter or a homeless shelter. We were put here on earth to make our universe better than it was before we came into being. Live for others and not for oneself. One of my favorite quotes that I often reflect on is, “Success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue… as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a course greater than oneself.” – Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning.

GRATITUDE

I was once talking to someone who told me that she keeps a gratitude journal. I asked her to explain. A gratitude journal is where you write down only the good things that happened to you today, however minor. What this does is makes one focus on the positive and not just the negative. We are taught when we wake up in the morning that the very thing we speak is acknowledging that we have been given another gift to live another day.

BUSY

I am sure you have heard of the axiom “when you need something done, give it to a busy person.” This is because success breeds success, and there is no time to panic or overthink. Any individual who has too much time on their hands will inevitably lead to negative thoughts because an empty mind leads to an empty heart. When my children were young and school age, I consulted Rabbi Rosenfeld, the dean of Yeshiva schools in Pittsburgh. He taught me something that I would forever be grateful for. He educated me that from a school’s perspective, the absolute worst thing for a child is boredom in a classroom. He said something to the effect that it is toxic.

NURTURING THE BODY

A few things come to mind. We all know that exercising is not only good for the heart; it is also good for the mind, as it releases endorphins, which without exercise are primarily released by pain and stress. Endorphins via exercise releases endorphins which reduce pain, make one happier and create a general sense of well-being. It is also a good practice to take a lunch break and do something that you enjoy during the day such as listening to music, going for a walk or getting something to eat.

NURTURING THE SOUL

I have met many people over the course of my career who simply put are spiritually bankrupt. They need their soul batteries charged. A soul is an extremely powerful energy and if not recharged, it will get depleted and leave one feeling melancholy. During this Covid catastrophe, I have heard many people say that they cannot wait to come to The Chai Center for the high holidays. Their soul feels a void, so they physically and mentally feel a void. (thechaicenter.com/highholidays).

It is my firm belief that the best way for a soul to be charged is to plug it in and connect. Doing a random act of kindness, saying a prayer, putting on tefillin, lighting shabbat candles, and giving charity are all just the tip of the iceberg. I would venture to say that even closing one’s eyes for a moment and simply reflecting that there is a greater power and force in the cosmos will help one connect with one’s soul.

I will conclude with an inspiring story that I recently came upon that is just brilliant.

The Lubavitch Rebbe looked at the young man standing before him and said, “A person has to serve G d with happiness!”

The young man replied, “Rebbe, what is there for me to celebrate?”

“Celebrate about the mitzvahs (good deeds) that you do!”

The young man paused. “Rebbe, I haven’t done any mitzvahs for a long time.”

“Then celebrate that you have a God who waits every moment for your mitzvahs!”

I bless us all that in the coming Jewish New Year, Covid should be completely eradicated, health and happiness should be in abundance and some nachas too would not hurt.

Please feel free to share.

About the Author
Rabbi Yakov Saacks is the founder and director of The Chai Center, Dix Hills, NY. The Chai Center has been nicknamed by some as New York's most Unorthodox Orthodox Center.
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