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The Rabbi and the Suicidal Teenager

The Rabbi and the Suicidal Teenager

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Dear Rabbi,

I am really struggling with a lot of things in life. Work, dating, you know the drill. Sometimes I get depressed about my shortcomings. They say everyone has something they’re good at, but I’m still trying to figure out what mine is. It’s tough when you don't view yourself in a very positive light. Everyone I know is super-successful, and I still can’t get anything off the ground. It seems like you are born with certain abilities, and those abilities strongly dictate where you will end up in life. I sometimes think I am just a big failure. Sorry for the rant, but I just wanted to get it off my chest . . . I would love to hear your response.

Answer:

You make me think of a story. A rabbi was once called to a hospital to see a Jewish teenager who was suicidal. Feeling that he was a good-for-nothing who could not get anything right, the boy had attempted to take his own life. But even his suicide attempt failed. Seeing that he was Jewish, the hospital staff called the rabbi to come and try to lift the boy’s dejected spirits.

The rabbi arrived at the hospital not knowing what to expect. He found the boy lying in bed watching TV, a picture of utter misery, black clouds of despair hanging over his head. The boy hardly looked up at the rabbi, and before he could even say hello, the boy said, “If you are here to tell me what the priest just told me, you can leave now.”

Slightly taken aback, the rabbi asked, “What did the priest say?”

“He told me that G‑d loves me. That is a load of garbage. Why would G‑d love me?”

It was a good point. This kid could see nothing about himself that was worthy of love. He had achieved nothing in his life; he had no redeeming features, nothing that was beautiful or respectable or lovable. So why would G‑d love him?

The rabbi needed to touch this boy without patronizing him. He had to say something real. But what do you say to someone who sees himself as worthless?

“You may be right,” said the rabbi. “Maybe G‑d doesn’t love you.”

This got the boy’s attention. He wasn’t expecting that from a rabbi.

“Maybe G‑d doesn’t love you. But one thing’s for sure. He needs you.”

This surprised the boy. He hadn’t heard that before.

The very fact that you were born means that G‑d needs you. He had plenty of people before you, but He added you to the world’s population because there is something you can do that no one else can. And if you haven’t done it yet, that makes it even more crucial that you continue to live, so that you are able to fulfill your mission and give your unique gift to the world.

If I can look at all my achievements and be proud, I can believe G‑d loves me. But what if I haven’t achieved anything? What if I don’t have any accomplishments under my belt to be proud of?

Well, stop looking at yourself and look around you. Stop thinking about yourself, and start thinking of others. You are here because G‑d needs you—He needs you to do something.

My friend, you and I know that happiness does not come from earning a big salary. Happiness comes from serving others, from living life with meaning. I am convinced that all you need to do is focus outward, not inward. Don’t think about what you need, but what you are needed for. And in finding what you can do for others, you will find yourself.

See The Life I Have, from our selection on the Value of Life.

Aron Moss is rabbi of the Nefesh Community in Sydney, Australia, and is a frequent contributor to Chabad.org.
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Anonymous January 16, 2017

Love, love, love What does He need any of us for? He can create what He needs anyway, and only humans have human needs. What is divine love exactly - affection, empathy, mercy, pity, jealousy, pride? Reply

Rochel Chein November 4, 2016

Does G-d need us? Good point...As you write, objectively speaking, a perfect, unlimited G-d doesn't need anything. However, G-d wanted to create this world, an imperfect world in which He would enter into a relationship with His creations, and we would partner with Him in perfecting the world. Each of us has a unique role to play in the Divine plan for the universe. G-d chooses to invest Himself in His world, and within this paradigm, we can say that G-d needs us in order to accomplish His plan, as there is a mission that only you can fulfill.

See also
What Does G-d Need Us For at
Reply

Anonymous Cape town, South Africa November 1, 2016

I'm sorry. it sounds very good, "G-d needs you", but it's just not true. If g-d needs you, he's not g-d. Reply

Marcia Zack Yakima, Washington October 2, 2014

Gd needs us Excellent thoughts. I look forward to sharing them with my students. Reply

Joshua London April 28, 2014

What has your (Marx's) post have to do with anything? Reply

mordi wisc March 30, 2014

burden Hey R. Marx- You are a remarkable man despite the history of your horrid father.
Your post is invaluable. Now you and all other readers know why there is no commandment for a parent to love his child. A dozen answers exist from our rabbis. None of them make love from a parent as a commandment. Rabbis dance around how actions are truisms. Commandment # 5 commands a child to honour the parents, but does not expect them to ' love ' the parent. Congratulations to you to call a terrible father, terrible. Reply

Richard Marx Phila. Pa. March 28, 2014

i'm a Jewish,male 84 years old. My father was to his last day, a terrible man as a father to me and a husband to his wife, my Mother, who survived his cruelty, loved him anyway, and never remarried though she was beautiful and wonderful and lived another 44 years to 94, after his death from a heart attack after a 4-pack a day cigarette habit killed him at 56. He fought against sending my brother and me to a better school, living in a house which he could easily afford, instead of cheap apartments in bad neighborhoods so that he could easily finance his own expensive hobby at the cost of a decent place to live. Reply

lori prescott,AZ March 6, 2014

feeling suicidal I too feel unworthy of this life. There is one thing that keeps me going. Ask yourself is there anything in this world that gives you any ounce of joy. Search your heart, examine yourself closely. When you find that thing embrace it. It may lead you to other joys in your life. Im constantly working on this. You might find the work you put into it may give you the peace you deserve. Peace is my greatest desire. I wish peace for you. Reply

Cheryl November 30, 2013

Very Good That is very good, to change the focus to what you are needed for. There is a saying, "find a need and fill it". Reply

Mordi August 29, 2012

Aug 28 r h " Bullying of any kind is wrong " as are all the others you mention. It also applies to those who are gone. The bullying in this case is having no empathy. A person gone deserves a stone on their grave as much as anyone else, not ridiculed for being weak. They were not weak.

Yes, the issue is deep and complex. The best lesson i have learned is from Rabbi Benny. To know that such a knowing remarkable person exists is an important link . All we can know is that those that are gone disconnected themselves. By showing empathy towards them, we have a better chance to research the tipping point of the " cutting edge " of those that are at risk. Professionals have the latest research. That a rabbi got through is no surprise. Religion is only one resource out of of many to help keep people at risk from the abyss.. Call for help. Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma August 28, 2012

Issues that Plague Youth today There are myriad articles about bullying and how children ostracize each other, and also of course, how adults ostracize each other and deal with children, issues of abuse, neglect, and issues that hit directly at self-worth, resulting in black despair. Young people can be cruel to each other, and it occurs at lunch often in schools, in cliques, in ostracism for myriad reasons. Adults can also be dismissive and very cruel in their treatment of children.

Child suicide is unconscionable often being about ostracism, and worse for all kinds of reasons, and some involve 'closeted' things and I think we all know what I'm saying.

Bullying of any kind is wrong, discriminatory and filled with judgment.

A rabbi explores self worth and mission with a suicidal young person and is heard. That is wonderful. And deep. How many children feel misunderstood and ostracized in their beliefs and can visit mentors who will not judge them, for being, "them"? It's a very deep issue and "cutting edge". Reply

Mordi August 28, 2012

a life taken , a life not taken To vent anger and rage at the victim of a suicide is a venting of anger and rage at life itself.

I would be more explicit about how wrongful this mindset is... General malaise and unhappiness are unsettling attitudes to deal with. Reply

Mordi August 28, 2012

Call for help The moral of the suicide article is clear: call for help

If you are thinking of committing suicide, call for help

If you know someone at risk in a suicidal situation, call for help

What do you do when there is a life at risk ? Follow only the article's advice and none other, call for help. Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA, USA August 26, 2012

No, I don't show rage and anger to the teen But I AM venting with you guys who are NOT in danger of committing suicide. With teens, I listen and empathize but then provide alternative feelings they can choose to have based on knowledge of how to overcome situations which they don' t have or are not thinking of at the time. With my granddaughter, I did a lot of "I know what you are going through is hard, but I have faith in your creativity and intelligence to be able to get through it somehow. I don't know how, but I know that you do have the strength and intelligence, now all you need is the will. In fact, I am so PROUD of you for already surviving this much! Wow. It is AMAZING how much you have survived. How wonderful is that? I look UP to you because you are actually teaching me survival methods. Let's talk about your friend who died. If she had given herself more time, could she maybe have called around for help from social workers, priests, or other organizations? We discussed the suicide hotline phone number, etc. Reply

Mordi August 26, 2012

help If you are confronted by a suicidal teen, call for help. On your own, if you fail, what do you tell the parents ? Reply

Anonymous August 25, 2012

The Aron Moss article 1. The teen did not succeed in committing suicide.

2. Presumably someone took him to the hospital.

3. The hospital staff tried but could not get through to him.

4. The hospital called a priest. He could not connect.

5. The hospital called a rabbi. The rabbi connected successfully.


Each step of the way, the boy was helped to some degree. Even the priest at least made the boy learn/think what he did not need. That may have been a crucial step for when the rabbi stepped in. The boy immediately communicated to the rabbi what he did not want. He wrote the rabbi off just like the priest. That made the rabbi take a different approach.

The story is not simply about a boy who fails to commit suicide, and along comes a rabbi and saves the day. There were steps by others that set the stage. An intervention is not a simple magic wand. It is complex.

The moral of the story is the imperative to seek out resources. With a life in the balance, it is unconscionable to try to be a hero. Reply

ruth housman marshfield, ma August 25, 2012

to be or not to be Life is surely about the sting and the honey.
There are so many people in this world at all ages and at all stages of development. Certainly there are cultures within cultures and many teens today have a totally unrealistic understanding of suicide, guns, and so many stories that bombard them. It could at times make the real world appear to be the reel world. It is called media bombardment and many adults worry about this as children Are affected. Then there is the phenomenon of doing what others do, the 'lemming' effect and sadly the terrible consequence of this 'romance' as you put it above.

We are speaking here of one word and an expansive concern. Reply

Mordi August 25, 2012

Why I want to suggest reasons for teen suicide, all of which fit under the definition of " deep despair and bereft of hope " :

1 Mentally ill

2. Not understood

3. Abuse

4. Bullying

5.Outcast

6.Ostracized

7. Status - unfulfilled expectations

8. Shattered by circumstance

9. Toxic relationship

10. Jilted love

11. Drugs/alcohol

12. Copycat

13. Accidental

14. Others ?

I am not trying to be ghoulish. I can empathize with any i have listed. I presume that we are all well adjusted adults in this forum and have been up too close to a suicide committed. It feels weird to list and ask for additional umbrella reasons. In this forum, 95 comments later, all i feel/sense is i want to be prepared if i ask " What's wrong ? " to an obviously fragile teen/adult in dire straits who says " I don't feel good " where it means in blackness. I should seek out a night course. It looks like a life skill to me, like swimming, or a lifeguard.

One or two word answers only please, no details. Reply

Anonymous August 24, 2012

change Aug 24, 2012 I am sorry. Your stories keep changing from romantic, not romantic, back to romantic.



Did you get professional help for your granddaughter ? I cannnot accept the notion that any non-professional has enough competence. From the article, some rabbis are experienced. In this area, R. Benny's work with teens is phenomenal. He discovered the need.

An important piece to the puzzle is to reach each individual at risk, and provide complete empathy, not the "anger and rage, you bet " attitude.

Life experience should not give any of us a false confidence to deal with suicide. We are compelled to find effective resources to lower the numbers.

R. Benny Zippel ( Utah ) exists. He is an acknowledged experienced lifeline. He is a pioneer. At some point he will need to mentor effective rabbis. Not just any rabbi can be. Alone and traveling Utah by car, he is exhausted, but effective. Sometimes I doubt my faith. Then along comes a Chosid/Tzaddek.

Now you know ! Please get the word out ! Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA, USA August 24, 2012

Interesting comments. My granddaughter Was under the impression that she understood and empathized with her friend who committed suicide, and from her statements, I realized that she was also considering it. You may not know this, but among teens, when it is "understood", it does become romanticized. She asked me what was wrong with doing it, since it hurts no one else and just yourself. She was, at the time, going through terrible situations, and I could tell she as considering "copycatting", which many teens in groups end up doing. I had to tell her it was wrong, it was murder. She asked why. I said because the person is a human being, and when you kill a human being, that is murder. Why would Orthodox Jews not know this? It is against one of the ten commandments! She ended up NOT committing suicide, and going to college, doing very well without the parent who had been abusive. Also, a student of mine in middle school had a suicide pact with her boyfriend, and I talked her out of it and gave her hope. Reply

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