Torah Blog


A blog of Torah thoughts, poems and other random odds 'n' sods. For tag cloud click here.
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Entries in depression (2)


The Bearable Lightness of Being

Midrash Tanhuma on Ki Tisa:

Since he came down and approached the camp and saw the calf, the written letters flew away from them and were found to be heavy on Moshe's hands, immediately (Exodus 32:18) "And Moshe's anger burned and he threw the tablets out of his hand"

Interesting. A bunch of letters chiseled into the stone allowed Moshe to be able to carry these huge stone tablets . In their absence, the tablets just became lumps of stone and Moshe dropped them (the Midrash changes our understanding of the verse that Moshe flung them down in anger; but see discussion here)

I see this Midrash as a metaphor for life. The tablets are our lives, with all of their challenges and burdens. The letters, our spiritual life - Torah learning, awareness and mindfulness, prayer and service of G-d. If we invest in keeping those letters nice and sharp, they can carry our lives for us and we can feel light and clear at every moment. If we let them drop and fade, whether out of laziness, anger or pain, we risk life becoming a heavy burden to schlep around. That's been my experience, anyway.

It reminds me of the Hassidic tale of the man who hitched a ride on a wagon. The man sat there with a huge bag on his knees. The driver said: "Why don't you put your bag down on the floor?" The hitchhiker replied: "You've been kind enough to take me, I don't need you to take my bag as well."

I think we can drop our bags - our baggage - and trust that if G-d can carry everything else, G-d can carry our bags for us too. We're not being helpful when we schlep all that stuff around, just foolish.

Thus, too, the ark was said to "carry its bearers" rather than the expected, that the bearers carried it.

So our job is to invest in our spiritual lives, and then they will carry us, G-d will carry us, our baggage, and all those things that currently feel so heavy. We have "wings of spirit", as Rav kook writes, and with them we can soar.


When our face falls

I've spent quite a bit of time with the story of Cain (I won't call it "Cain and Abel" here, because the brothers undergo different challenges - the challenge of failure is not the same as the challenge of success), and I think it's amazing. This is the first time in the Torah that we get to see a human whirling giddily in the eye of a storm of emotions: Anger, jealousy, frustration and more.

Bereshit 4:6 sets out two of these emotions plainly:

"And the Lord said to Cain: Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen?

Why is God asking these questions, when the answer is obvious? Clearly God wants to draw Cain's attention to two emotions inside him - two different emotions, each of which has its own pulse and requires its own processing mechanism.

Leaving aside "Why are you angry?" let's think about "Why has your face fallen?" This sounds a lot like sadness, even depression. When we are depressed our mouths turn downwards, our eyes look down, our very being seems to drag into the ground as if we have arrived on a planet when gravity is ten times our own.

And what happens when we look down? What might we miss? When people speak to us, we will not look them in the eye. We will miss the -face-to-face, soul-to-soul encounter possible every time we converse openly and directly with another. God says, "Cain, look up, talk to me. Let's communicate, don't build walls. Raise your face to me." Just as in the priestly blessing, we are blessed "May the Lord lift His countenance to you and grant you peace," perhaps God too wants our countenances lifted to Him/Her, with openness and welcome.

And what else happens while we look down? Absolutely everything! But we don't see any of it. Amazing opportunities whizz right by our ears and we don't even notice. Life is full of doors opening and abundance coming our way; every moment brings its riches. But we are so busy looking down, nose to the grindstone, that we don't even notice.
Look up, dear human! And grab it while its hot!

Wild Geese by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting--
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.