I realize it has been awhile since I posted anything to JBC.org, so I apologize for the absence, but I think that I have an acceptable excuse.
For the last couple of months I have been struggling with a serious depression, the likes of which I have not experienced since my senior year in college, and which has left me listless and drifting. The one good thing in my life, the one consistency that has kept me even a little bit grounded to who I am is my Judaism and my temple community. I am not writing this to elicit sympathy or even empathy from readers, rather I want to make a very clear point that I think all Jews by Choice and those considering conversion should take to heart: please remember that Judaism is not just about Torah and Talmud, Halachah and Midrash, Chaggim and Shabbatot. Judaism is about community and I have felt that profoundly over the last few months. My friends at temple worried about me and didn’t just keep that worry to themselves—they took action to help me. My rabbi kicked my butt all over the place to get me to make the choices that would help me and not hurt me. My Religious School kids, while not being aware of the situation, have helped to make things a little simpler, a little better, each time I teach them.
We, as Jews, are called to repair the world, to perform acts of tzedakah, to be a light unto the nations. But, we must remember to take care of our own communities as well, to help repair the people around us and, when necessary, allow others to help you as well. As someone who is fiercely independent is has been incredibly difficult for me to allow others to help and to ask for that help when I have needed it. I have found comfort in the rituals of Jewish prayer and many of the words that have become so familiar to me over the years have taken on new meaning as I attempt to climb out of this darkness.
This year Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and the days leading up to them were incredibly emotional for me and I connected with the services in ways that are much different than previous years. I was frustrated at first because the High Holy Days are my favorite part of the Jewish year and I wasn’t enjoying them the way I usually did. But then I realized that even though I may not have been happy during services and as I thought about the year past and the year to come, the High Holy Days were doing exactly when they are meant to: they helped me reflect and focus and think about my relationship with God and the people that I love. My former therapist (who is my former and not current therapist largely for the following reason) asked me recently about whether or not I have prayed and asked God to help me. I tried to explain to her that I don’t view prayer as a “ask-and-you-shall-receive” transaction, that to I don’t expect God to necessarily answer me when I pray. She kept pushing the subject, saying she felt God had spoken to her before and that she thought I should ask. I stopped trying to explain my view of prayer because I didn’t expect her to understand. When I pray in temple I do pray for strength, but while that prayer is directed at God it is just as much directed inward. During the silent prayer I thank God each week for the friends and support that I have and for the strength to be able to keep moving forward. I don’t expect a solution or a cure to suddenly pop into my head, but I always feel comforted, and perhaps that is God’s way of answering me. I don’t know, and it doesn’t really bother me that I don’t know
The last time traveled this road I didn’t have the faith in God, the community, or the Judaism that I do now. It isn’t a cure, but it helps.
3 Responses to “ Judaism and Depression ”
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I appreciate your courage and honesty in sharing your experience with your readers. I too believe that prayer is as much a communication with oneself as it is with God. And one thing I learned long ago that has never left me is the custom of those who receive tzedakah to give a percentage of what they receive to someone else as tzedakah. What I learned from this is that even when we are down and out there are always those in greater need than we, and also that we are never beyond the capacity to help others.
This was a very meaningful post. You may be interested in a book by Rabbi Arthur Green, called “Tormented Master: The Life and Spiritual Quest of Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav”. Another Jew who knew depression was Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan. In his siddur he resurrected the use of a beautiful phrase in “Baruch She’amar” in the morning liturgy. He added “Baruch ma’avir afelah u’meivi orah”, which means (loosely) “Blessed, who takes away the dark and brings the light.” This had two meanings for Kaplan: one obviously suggesting night and day, and another speaking to the light and inspiration that often follows depression. I think those who never have moments of darkness can never really have strong spiritual awareness of the Light (not to sound too much like an Essene ). Kol tuv on a beautifully reflective post.
I appreciate your courage and honesty in sharing your experience with your readers. I too believe that prayer is as much a communication with oneself as it is with God. And one thing I learned long ago that has never left me is the custom of those who receive tzedakah to give a percentage of what they receive to someone else as tzedakah