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Dancing with depression


How do we define ourselves? What makes us special?

Rebbe Nachman, a major promoter of happiness, gave advice how to be truly joyous. In תנינא כ״ג he gives a parable. “Sometimes when people are dancing happily in a circle, they grab someone from outside the circle who’s not dancing, because he’s sad, and they force him to dance and be happy with them”.

You see there are two ways of making ourselves happy. Most people try the first way; To forget about the things that make them sad. But sometimes it’s not so easy to do. There could be a lot of things we’re depressed about. (This is why so many people use drugs and alcohol. They truly want to be happy but they can’t put aside their sadness. So they induce their happiness by using). Never the less, this first way of making ourselves happy can be compared to the circle in which people are dancing and the sadness is standing on the side. This way makes us happy but it isn’t ideal because we haven’t overcome our sadness, we just denied it temporarily.

The Rebbe teaches a novel way of inducing happiness. We need to “Grab the sadness and drag it into the circle to dance against its will” until the sadness also turns into happiness because happiness is healing.

How do we do that? Rebbe Nosson explains (‘הלכות פריה ורביה ג) that we are sad because we feel far from God. But we need to say “Even though I’m so so far from God, I’m still a Jew! I still do some mitzvos! Maybe I put on tefillin or I gave charity or I visited someone in the hospital? In all truth the greatest reason to be happy is that a person as far away from God as me is still lucky enough to be a Jew and do a few mitzvos”. Do we realize how special each mitzvah is? Do we appreciate how fortunate we are to light candles on Friday night? Even us, who can’t concentrate for the six words of Shema Yisrael still do some mitzvos! There is no greater joy in the world than that!

This is such a fresh idea because we tend to define ourselves by how much we’ve accomplished. Sometimes when I talk to people, it seems like they’re reading me their resume! “I finished this and then I went here and accomplished that”. We think that what makes us special is our titles and accomplishments. Rebbe Nachman is saying that our greatness and worth is not about what we accomplished but about who we are! We are Jews. We have a special relationship with God and with the world. That’s our essence, unrelated to our accomplishments. And in a funny way, the less we’ve achieved until now, the happier our Jewishness should make us!

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