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Ask the Rabbi
Before making Aliyah to Israel, Tzvi Fishman was a Hollywood screenwriter. He has co-authored 4 books with Rabbi David Samson, based on the teachings of Rabbi Kook, Eretz Yisrael, Art of T'shuva, War and Peace, and Torat Eretz Yisrael.
Av 24, 5767, 8/8/2007
A person wrote us asking for advice how to escape from the clutches of depression and sexual sin. Since this is a problem that affects a great many people, here is our answer:
In several places you mention that depression can lead to sexual sin. The truth is that I’m depressed a lot and I find myself drawn to look at erotic pictures and then to have relations with my wife in an immodest manner, or at a forbidden time, or on other occasions, I just masturbate in order to feel good. But then I find myself getting depressed all over again and the cycle repeats. How I can be happy?
Being happy is a mitzvah that you have to work at. Don’t give up, don’t fall into despair, pray to G-d to help you, and He will answer your prayers.
There are many self-help books on being happy. One we recommend is “Gateway to Happiness” by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin, available online at www.eichlers.com. It turns out that being happy is an art that you can learn. But, like all other crafts, it takes diligence and hard work. Since you have not given us any insights into your personality, here we will list some general suggestions based on the deep Torah wisdom of the Hasidic master, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov. In his book, “Advice,” he states:
“Try to be as happy as you possibly can. Search for your good points in order to make yourself happy. If for nothing else, you can be happy with the thought that you are a Jew. If you genuinely realize the true implications of this, you will find joy without limits. No matter what you may go through, you will always be able to take heart from this and be happy all your life.”
If you can follow this advice, you have made a good beginning. Here is some more advice from Rabbi Nachman. Study each point. Try to incorporate it into your life. Keep working at being happy, don’t give up, don’t fall into despair, pray to G-d to help you with all of your heart and He will answer your prayers.
*Depression is like a sediment which covers the heart of the Jew and prevents it from burning with passion for G-d.
*Depression is a form of idolatry. How joyous we are depends on our purity and how close we are to the true Tzaddikim, who are the joy of all Israel. If you are joyous, the light of G-d’s countenance will radiate upon you.
*The main reason for immorality is because of depression. The way to be pure is through joy. If you are happy, G-d will help you to keep yourself pure.
*Man’s imagination is the source of all temptations. It is one of man’s animal aspects. If it becomes dominant, it is because of depression which is an evil spirit. Forgetfulness gains a hold, and one forgets one’s true purpose of sanctifying oneself in order to merit the World to Come. We have to fight back and aim to be constantly happy in order to shatter the power of the imagination. Then we will be able to set the World to Come always in our minds.
*When a person is depressed, his intellect and mind go into exile. This makes it very hard for him to concentrate on t’shuva (repentance) on returning to G-d. When a person fills his mind with joy, his intellect becomes freed from its exile, and he can concentrate his mind on the true goal of returning to G-d.
*Don’t be depressed. The root of depression is in the husks (kelipot) which are at war with all that is holy. Whenever depression takes grip, the Shechinah, which is the joy of Israel, goes into exile. The destruction of the husks of unholiness depends on joy.
*Because the incense which was burned in the Holy Temple had the power to free the holy life force from the husks, you should recite the passages in the prayer book which deal with the daily incense offering with great concentration. This will help bring you to joy.
*Fasting brings joy. The more you have fasted, the greater the joy.
*Crying is good when you cry out of joy. Contrition and regret for your sins are also good if they stem from joy – in the sense that you experience the joy of G-d’s Presence so intensely that you feel sorry for ever having rebelled against Him, and you burst into tears of joy.
*When you confess your sins, you must specify each sin exactly. You should confess about everything you did, and the confession must be verbalized in words. Thinking alone is not enough. You must also go into all of the details. Many people have a lot of barriers against this. The way to overcome them is through the joy of fulfilling the mitzvot. When you go to a wedding or some other happy occasion, you should work yourself up into such a mood of joy that you dance and dance. When you are happy, it is easy to confess, and it will make amends for all of the damage you did with your sins.
*You should feel so happy when you do a mitzvah that you don’t do it merely to receive a reward in the World to Come. Rather because you want G-d to send you another mitzvah, because your joy is the mitzvah itself. If you pray with intensity and great awe and love, you will be able to experience this joy.
*The way to come to joy is through Torah and prayer. You should always prayer to attain the level that is hidden from you. And when this is revealed you should pray to achieve the level that is still hidden. This is how to rise from level to level. It is the way to find joy, which is the source of spiritual strength.
*If you put so much effort into a holy task that you literally sweat, you will be able to experience true joy.
*It is a wonderful thing when people dance for joy for the sake of a mitzvah! There are times when it is a mitzvah to drink some wine – on Shabbat or Yom Tov, or at a wedding, or other religious celebrations. If you drink on such occasions, your intention should be for the sake of Heaven. Drink moderately, and not to excess, with the purpose of experiencing the true joy of Israel, which is to rejoice in G-d who chose us from all other nations. As your joy begins to radiate, it will spread to your legs and you will literally begin to dance for joy. This will banish the evil forces of the Other Side, which grips the legs. The fire with which we dance is “a fire offering, a sweet savor to the L-rd” (BaMidbar, 28:8). But when one dances in the heat of the evil inclination, it is a “strange fire” (Vayikra, 10:1), and the wine which he drinks is the “wine of drunkenness,” which gives a hold to the forces of the Other Side.
*The music of one who is truly G-d fearing can help you to be happy. It has the power to break the force of fantasy. You will be able to focus your thoughts on the World to Come and to understand the hints which G-d sends you constantly each day in order to draw you closer to Him.
*If you are joyous it will bring you to new horizons in Torah.
*The holiness of the Land of Israel has the power to break the force of depression.
*A person who examines and judges himself over everything he does thereby frees himself from the harsh judgments that were weighing upon him. He will be so happy that he will literally dance for joy.
*Once a person decides to be pure and devote himself to serving G-d, it is a very big sin if he allows himself to be depressed. Because G-d hates depression.
*There are times when the only way to make yourself happy is by doing something silly or making jokes. There are so many troubles that people have to go through physically and spiritually – trying to make a living, etc. etc. – that the only way they can make themselves happy is by doing something silly and acting a bit crazy. The whole vitality of the body and the soul depend on being happy. And in the worlds above, great unifications are brought about through the joy of the spirit.
Try doing something silly
*It is a great mitzvah to always be happy. Be determined to keep away from depression, and aim to be happy constantly. Happiness is the remedy for all kinds of diseases, because many illnesses are caused by depression. You must be resourceful in order to make yourself happy. Often you must do something a little bit crazy in order to make yourself happy.
*Try hard to turn your very depression and worry into joy. True joy is when you drag your darkness and depression even against their will and force them to turn into happiness.
*When someone is happy all day, it is easier for him to spend an hour or so with a broken heart, talking to G-d and pouring out his heart like water before Him. After a broken heart comes joy. The test of whether your heart was really broken is if afterwards you feel joy.
*To find true joy is the hardest thing of all. It is harder than all other spiritual tasks. You must literally force yourself to be happy at all times. Put all of your energy into it. Use every kind of ploy. Often the only way is by doing something foolish or childish.
*Most of all you must be happy while you are praying. Be sure to always pray with joy. The same applies with carrying out the mitzvot. You should be especially joyous on Shabbat and Yom Tov. Even on weekdays it is a great mitzvah to be happy.
*It is a great thing to bring joy to the heart of your fellow Jews. Most people are full of pain or worry and all kinds of troubles, and they find it impossible to speak out what is in their hearts. Someone who comes with a smiling face can literally give them fresh life. This is a very great thing. When you make another person happy, you are literally giving new life to a Jewish soul.
In summary, being happy is a mitzvah that you have to work at. Don’t give up, don’t fall into despair, pray to G-d to help you, and He will answer your prayers.