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The Lonely Man of Faith: The Rav and Mental Health

Image via Pixabay
Image via Pixabay

In the first few pages of R’Soloveitchik’s work, A Lonely Man of Faith, it simply reads — I am lonely.

Yes, one of our greats, was not afraid to admit that he faced loneliness.
He knew he wasn’t alone (none of us are), yet he was lonely.
Did he feel the sinking pit of loneliness in his stomach?
The one that you feel when you shut the door of your quiet apartment, or office at the end of a long day?
We don’t have an answer, but I would imagine so.
He discusses further that he does not plan on suggesting any new method to fix “the human situation” and acknowledges that our pain — our situation — has to be sat with. It has to be dealt with and there isn’t a quick fix to it.
Whether it be loneliness, anxiety, depression, it has to be confronted. We have to confront it.
Elihu son of Berachel of old said, “I will speak that I may find relief”. He goes even further to say that a tormented soul finds peace in talking about what is causing him pain.
Rabbi Soloveitchik gives us one of the most realistic pictures of what depression and the human experience truly look like.
He describes his daily meetings, his close friends and family, all of his acquaintances, yet acknowledges that all of those factors don’t affect his passional experience of loneliness.
Imagine — a gadol confessing to the plight of loneliness!
Our greats experience these incredibly human feelings.
And I think that realizing how human some of our greatest Rabbonim were and how normal (albeit difficult) these challenging feelings really are in our lives as frum people in the modern world (and even outside of the frum community) helps to lighten our load.
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It was suggested that mental illness should be treating the same as physical illness.(Torah U’Madda Journal Vol. 8)
Rabbi Soloveitchik went on in that same volume to quote that “we should do everything in our power to fight and defeat mental illness, and if we cannot defeat it, we should accept it with dignity.
That says so much about how he treated his own challenges and how we are able to treat our own. His discourse, “A Lonely Man of Faith” is a testament of how he chose to turn his plight into something that others could connect and relate to.
We can do exactly the same.
Wrapping this all up, what can we learn from one of many of our Gedolim who suffered loneliness and depression?
Part of our relationship to the Holy One comes through loneliness.
Only in that state are we able to question ourselves and the world.
“Are we worth anything? If so, why?”
Part of our relationship with G-d is created because of our feeling of loneliness in the vast sea of people who also live beside us.
Image via Pixabay

Self-awareness is key.

Accepting that loneliness is really a central part of not only self-discovery but of living a frum life in the modern world.
But further than that — in one of the volumes of Torah U’Madda journal, it is quoted from Kohelet:
“Two are better than one…if the one will fall, the other will lift his brother. But he that falls alone, has no other to help him.”
To have a support system is one of the most valuable things, but to make yourself a pillar of support for someone else, that’s one of the biggest kindnesses you could ever do.
About the Author
Yiskah attended seminary in New York & Israel before moving back to the states. She currently teaches in early childhood education and is working toward a degree in Psychology and a certificate in Holocaust Education. She is a contributor to "Every Name Counts", "The World Memory Project" and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum's project "History Unfolded" and has written articles for Refuat Hanefesh as well as others on the topics of mental health, Jewish identity and conversion/geirus.
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