Despondency and Depression

…Bear in mind the following points:

(a) There can be no question that teshuvah, penitence, is effective in every case, whatever the transgression, for teshuvah is one of G‑d’s commandments, and G‑d does not require of us the impossible.

(b) It is likewise certain that any kind of depression, despondency or sadness [as a result of agonizing over past sins] is a trick of the yetzer hara, the evil inclination, to discourage one from serving G‑d....

I advise you from now on to stop weighing and dwelling on things that are of no practical value, and especially the kinds of thoughts that only lead to despondency; rather place ever-increasing efforts on the performance of Torah and mitzvos....

(From a letter of the Rebbe, dated Erev Shavuos, 5716)

Combating Sadness

…With regard to your inclination towards a feeling of sadness:

A useful remedy for this is to have firmly engraved in your mind that G‑d, the Creator of the world, watches over everyone individually.

Since He is the Essence of Goodness, there is therefore no room for sadness or worry; this [concept] has been explained at length in various parts of the Tanya (see Index [at the back of the Tanya]).

It would be especially good for you to commit to memory the passage of Tanya at the beginning of chapter 41 (p. 56a), second line from the bottom. Whenever you feel sad or depressed, review that section in your mind or recite it orally. This will assist you in eliminating these undesirable emotions.

(From a letter of the Rebbe, dated 7 Adar, 5717)

Three Forms of Reality

…You write in your letter about your [depressed] state of mind.

As known, there are many matters that exist wholly outside the person; other [mental health] issues [such as neuroses and psychoses] that at least exist within the individual’s inner [sense of reality and] self; and finally, there are those matters whose entire existence [and reality] is a result of the person’s thinking about them.

Although it would seem that when thinking about a certain thing [whose entire existence is predicated on his thoughts about the matter], there is no difference whether or not his thoughts refer to a factual reality, but in truth this is not so: there always exists within the individual the ability to examine his feelings and their degree of authenticity and certitude.

This assessment affects the person even when his capacity to make a “reality check” is concealed, or to use the common vernacular, lies within his subconscious, which can then be recovered.

Clearly, the thoughts and feelings that you are now experiencing emanate from the latter [of the three forms of reality: they only exist because you insist on thinking about them].

Such types of thoughts and feelings are much easier [to get rid of]; quite often they dissipate on their own by simply ceasing to think these thoughts — either a cessation resulting from an external factor [such as through an intervention by another person], or brought about by the person’s own resolve to stop thinking about them.

…We verily observe that hundreds and thousands of people who found themselves in the same frame of mind as you do now were able to rid themselves of these feelings without it having any lasting effect on them at all (from which we understand that this can ultimately be achieved even by those who still retain some vestige of these feelings).

[These statistics may not be so well known,] merely because it is human nature to greatly publicize those matters that are entirely in the minority, or those matters that are truly uncommon, [i.e., individuals whose feelings of gloominess overwhelm them,] while the more common experience [of people gaining control of their feelings] is not publicized at all.

…Thus, with even minor reflection we realize that it is incumbent on each and every one of us to fulfill our mission in this world; i.e., to increase luminosity within the world and particularly within our own environs, by strengthening and disseminating the light of life in consonance with the directives of our Torah, the Torah of Life.

Since this is the case, we do not even have the luxury of the available time that it takes to contemplate thoughts about ourselves, i.e., thoughts of the type that you have been having.

And although at the beginning it is not easy to replace thoughts concerning ourselves with thoughts concerning our purpose in G‑d’s world, with time and practice it becomes easier to switch our thoughts — particularly so, when we do all the above with joy, the foundation of this joy being that which the Rambam writes at the conclusion of Hilchos Lulav, [concerning the vital importance of serving G‑d joyfully]….

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. XIV, p. 22)

Combating Depression

…You write that you feel depressed, as it seems to you that you have not succeeded in your studies at the Yeshivah to the extent that you expected. Even assuming that you are completely correct in your appraisal, this would still be no reason for feeling depressed.

For, as it is explained in many sources, especially Tanya, even in the case of spiritual failure, no Jew should feel depressed, for a feeling of depression and gloom is, in itself, one of the strategic weapons used by the yetzer hara in an effort to discourage a person from serving G‑d with joy and alacrity.

And when the yetzer hara succeeds in one thing, such as in discouraging you from studying, as you write, he goes on to further things.

The way to combat the yetzer hara is, as explained in Tanya, to call forth a redoubled effort on your part to overcome the feeling of depression, replacing it with a feeling of joy. You can accomplish this by recognizing that whatever one’s past has been, it is still always possible to attach oneself to G‑d through the study of the Torah and the observance of the mitzvos.

In the case of persistent distraction, the well-known illustration used in the Tanya is to imagine that a heathen is standing nearby while one is in the midst of prayer and trying to distract one from concentrating on prayer and study.

In such a case, one would certainly not blame himself [for becoming distracted]. Rather, one would redouble his efforts to concentrate on his prayer or study, completely ignoring the outside distractions.

Thus, in the final analysis, it is up to a person to overcome his difficulties by his own efforts and determination, and we have already been assured that where there is a determined effort, success is certain.

Moreover, it is quite possible in your case that you have truly underestimated your success, and your belief to the contrary, [i.e., that you have not succeeded,] is merely a result of a thought implanted in your mind by the yetzer hara [in order to succeed in making you feel glum and downhearted]....

(From a letter of the Rebbe, dated 25 Menachem Av, 5718)

Traditional and Observable View of Melancholy and Depression

In reply to your letter of Motzaei Shabbos: There is surely no need to alert you to the fact that the sages and luminaries of Israel held melancholy and gloominess in extreme disfavor. This is also discussed in Tanya, ch. 26, and in many other places.

In addition, one can plainly observe that not only does such an attitude fail to correct any situation, but in fact it does quite the opposite.

This is also true regarding the matters with which you are occupied. It is especially true in this country where a happy approach strikes a responsive chord in people’s hearts, whereas its opposite does not….

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. X, p. 258)

Feelings of Dissatisfaction and Despondency

…Leaving the details of your complaints aside, I wish to make several observations:

1. Feeling dissatisfied with oneself is a good sign, for it indicates vitality and an urge to rise and improve oneself, which is accomplished via a two-way method: withdrawal from the present state, and turning to a higher level (see sichah of my father-in-law, the Rebbe, of sainted memory, Pesach 5694).

2. If the urge to improve oneself leads to downheartedness and inertia, then it is the work of the yetzer hara, whose job it is to use every means at its disposal to prevent a Jew from carrying out good intentions connected with Torah and mitzvos.

The false and misleading voice of the yetzer hara should be stifled and ignored. Besides, as the Alter Rebbe states (Tanya, ch. 25), even one single good deed creates an everlasting bond and communion with G‑d (ibid.,at length).

Thus a feeling of despondency is not only out of place, it is a stumbling block to the worship of G‑d, as is more fully explained in the above and subsequent chapters of Tanya....

(From a letter of the Rebbe, dated 16 Adar, 5712)

Bitterness and Melancholy Stemming From the “Other Side”

Your letter of 25 Iyar just reached me. No doubt you have long since received the booklet and the sichah together with my letter, and at auspicious times I mention your name and your wife’s name at the holy resting place of my revered father-in-law with reference to your needs.

As I wrote you long ago, I have one thing to say: I do not understand your bitterness and melancholy at all. Since1 “even the caretaker of a well is appointed in Heaven,” and this certainly applies in regards to a rabbi of a Jewish community, you should be aware of the responsibility that rests upon you. It is even more obvious that if notions such as those [of which you write] bring you to bitterness and melancholy, they certainly stem from “the Other Side”2 — or, to borrow the phrase of my revered father-in-law, “the cunning one.”3 Accordingly, every time and every moment that you think such thoughts, these thoughts emanate from the chambers of “the Other Side” — and concerning a thought of this kind it is written4 that “as soon as it rises there (i.e., to one’s mind), one thrusts it aside with both hands and averts his mind from it [...], and refuses to accept it.”

Now, this is speaking of every man, for5 “the rank of Beinoni is one that is attainable by every man, and every man should strive after it.” (This is not contradicted by the statement in Tanya6 that the Beinoni “has never committed any transgression,” whereas chapter 14 states that “every person can, at any time or hour, be a Beinoni.” The meaning [of the former statement] is that the Beinoni’s present spiritual state is such that transgressing has no place in his life, neither in the future nor in the past.7 This will suffice for now.)

From all the above, it will be clear that I am not at all comfortable to read in your letter that you are seeking a different position. You should remain in your present post and trust firmly that G‑d will lead you in the path of truth8 and bless your holy work with success. If doubts about this enter your mind, this does not indicate a doubt in your ability, but a weakness in your trust. The remedy for this is to study Shaar HaBitachon in Chovos HaLevavos,9and, more broadly, to be bound to the Tree of Life, i.e., the study of Chassidus, and to participate frequently in chassidic farbrengens with genuine chassidic joy — to be happy and to make others happy.

Now, since you have moved into your new apartment, the thing to do would be to organize a chassidic farbrengen there, truly and properly, and remind yourself of the good old days, when a chassid at a farbrengen would speak [candidly], without hesitating to consider what this one or that one would say, or what his own left side or right side10 would say. A chassid only knew that a chassidic farbrengen — listening to a discourse of Chassidus, a chassidic vort,11or an anecdote about one of our Rebbeim — brings in light, and12 “a little light dispels a great deal of darkness.”

Furthermore: Why should one think about darkness? Let’s think more about light — especially now, when we are at the time at which the First Tablets of the law were given.13 And, [interpreting] the phrase14 “engraved (charus) on the Tablets” [on the non-literal level called derush], the Sages taught:15 “Do not read charus (‘engraved’); read cheirus (‘freedom’).”16

May it be G‑d’s will that your new apartment exemplify the adage17 that “he who changes his place changes his fortune” — in a good direction. May your home be a warm home and a happy home, filled with18 “a commandment, [which] is a lamp, and the Torah, [which] is light.” May it be filled with the luminary within the Torah, i.e., the teachings of Chassidus, and the spiritual lifestyle of Chassidus, and the customs of chassidim. And you should hold a chassidic farbrengen there from time to time.

I look forward to hearing glad tidings regarding an improvement in your frame of mind, and to hearing that at long last — even if only as an [unenthused] assumption of responsibility19 — you have undertaken that henceforth you will fulfill the Torah’s command that one should serve G‑d “with joy and with gladness of heart.”20

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. IV, p. 318)

Combating Despondency Through Thinking Positively

I am astounded by the fact that time and again a theme is accentuated, but when it comes to actualizing it, each and every individual tends to think that the point was made regarding someone else — not himself!

The aphorism and directive of our Rebbeim-Nesi’im, “Think positively, and you will see positive results” (the intent of which is that such positive thoughts will actually bring about good results), has been cited in numerous places.

Yet, contrary to this, you concoct entirely opposite types of thoughts, and notwithstanding the fact that we find ourselves in the month of Adar, at which time we are commanded to increase our joy, you wallow in despondency (see Tanya regarding [the inappropriateness of] this matter; [i.e., the state of despondency]).

I conclude with “words of, [i.e., uttered by,] royalty,” [i.e., the Rebbeim, the Nesi’im]: “Think positively, and you will see positive results” — clearly and conspicuously.

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. XX, p. 195)

Negative Aspects of Sadness, Depression and Despondency

The negative aspects of all forms of sadness, depression, despondency, etc., are explained in many places in Chassidus, beginning with the Tanya.

It is also clear from experience that these attitudes belong to the bag of tricks used by the yetzer hara in order to distract a Jew from serving G‑d. To achieve this end, the yetzer hara sometimes even clothes itself in a mantle of piety.

On the other hand, we have been assured that “He who is determined to purify himself receives Divine help.”21 The road to purity and holiness, however, is one that should be trodden step by step, and by gradual and steady advancement.

(From a letter of the Rebbe, dated 27 Teves, 5721)

Most Definitely Do Not Be Heartbroken

I received your telegram and letter about your safe return, and I was happy that — thank G‑d — your journey went well and upon your return you found everything in order. However, it pained me how evident it was to see from your letter that you are brokenhearted [about the state of your husband’s health as well as your own] — a heartbrokenness that is entirely out of place.

Surely I need not explain at length that the phrase22 “the offering [desirable] to G‑d is a broken spirit” does not refer to being brokenspirited and surely not brokenhearted — something that is detrimental, G‑d forbid, to one’s health and has a deleterious effect on one’s nerves. Moreover, brokenheartedness leads to viewing matters in a much more pessimistic and grim light than the way the matters truly are....

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. IV, p. 340)

A “Shot in the Arm” Against Despondency

A hypodermic needle draws blood for the purpose of diagnosis and treatment. However, it is not the needle that draws the blood from the veins. Rather it is the vacuum in the syringe.

The lesson of the value of a vacuum can be extremely relevant to a person who considers himself “vacant” — unworthy — to be successful in his G‑dly service.

An empty vessel can absorb with greater intensity than one that is full. So too can the person who is aware of his own inadequacy be more strongly motivated to study and do positive things.

Similarly, when we find ourselves in a situation where an absence or loss is deeply felt, one need not be despondent. We can rather use the emptiness itself as an impetus for even greater achievement.

(Adapted from a sichah of the Rebbe, Simchas Torah, 5738)

Negation of Dejection and Despair

…Regarding the content of your letter, a letter filled with dejection and despair:

This [negative attitude] is not at all in keeping with the path formulated by the Baal Shem Tov, his disciples, and his disciples’ disciples, the luminaries of Chassidus, who stressed time and time again the Divine command to “Serve G‑d with joy.”

I have already written to many of Anash, [our chassidic brotherhood], and if memory serves me, to you as well, that conducting oneself in this [joyous] manner is an actual law and not just a meritorious manner of conduct (middas Chassidus). Moreover, this is a fundamental and crucial [all-embracing] commandment — not merely a limited individual specific command.

This ruling [of serving G‑d with joy] is stated in the Rambam at the conclusion of Hilchos Lulav; see his [exact] wording there, [where he states:] “It is a great form of service.”

In conjunction with the above, there is also Rambam’s ruling at the conclusion of the third chapter in Hilchos Deos
quoted as well in the Tur, Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim, chapter 231 — [where he states that when one serves G‑d with joy] “…it thus results in the person constantly serving G‑d ... ‘knowing Him in all your ways’”; [i.e., all the person’s activities become part of his Divine service].

Even if contemplating your situation leads you to wonder as to where there is room for joy in your life, the answer to this [question of what there is to be joyful about] is already offered by the Alter Rebbe in his sacred work of Tanya, [where he describes] the joy of the soul and reasons for this joy, and how, [notwithstanding bodily tribulations,] the body and its bodily affairs cannot impede on this joy — see there.23

May G‑d will it that by return mail you convey to me glad tidings with regard to the above, and also that you are increasing your studies in [Chassidus,] the portion of Torah known as the “Tree of Life,” where life and joy unite with each other until they become wholly integrated and truly one.

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. XV, p. 232)

Empowered by the Rebbe’s Blessings

In reply to your express letter:

I have already advised — and even warned — you a number of times not to be sad and depressed, [but to be happy and joyful]. I offered you further reasoning [that you be joyful and not sad], by reminding you that my father-in-law, the Rebbe, of blessed memory הכ”מ blessed you many times — and, as the ruling in the Talmud states: “A tzaddik decrees and G‑d fulfills [the tzaddik’s decree].”

Heaven forbid that you should cast even a shadow of a doubt on [the magnitude and power of these blessings,] or that you weaken your sense of faith and trust in G‑d [by placing yourself in a sad and depressed frame of mind. Such behavior] is contrary to the many sayings and aphorisms of our Sages, of blessed memory, who decried such a [self-generated] state [of sadness and depression].

Aside from the above, such behavior also damages the [spiritual] channels [through which the Divine blessings flow from Above. Proof can be adduced from the following] text of the Zohar, Parshas Tetzaveh, p. 184b:

“Behold, the lower world, [i.e., this physical world,] exists in a state of constant readiness to receive [the Divine flow from Above]. It is called a “precious stone.” The upper world will only bestow to the lower world in accordance with [the lower world’s] state and condition.

“If the lower world is in a [positive] state of luster and radiance, it will accordingly receive kindnesses from Above; if it is in a state of gloominess, then it receives ‘severities’ from Above.

“Therefore the verse (Tehillim 100:2) exhorts us: ‘Serve G‑d with joy.’ For man’s joy [in the lower world] draws down for him an even greater and more enhanced measure of joy from Above.”

It is already high time that you begin complying with the above.

With blessings for goodness in all matters, especially a speedy recovery.

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. IV, p. 34)

Despondency — A Device of the Evil Inclination

…You write to me that you find yourself in a state of despondency:

It is patently obvious that your despondent state is a device of, and results from, the machinations of the evil inclination, which seeks to obstruct man from fulfilling his purpose and task in this world — this task being, in the words of the Mishnah:24 “I was created to serve my Master,” a task that can only be accomplished with joy.

This is in keeping with the explanation of the “Great Teacher,” the Rambam, (conclusion of Hilchos Lulav) who expresses this thought in wondrous and astonishing terminology — see his words there and take them to heart.

Having done so, you will then rejoice and exult in true joy, in keeping with the verse: “Know Him in all your ways.” This degree of joy and the means of obtaining it is explained in Tanya, chapter 31 and onward — see there.

This [joyful manner of] service also leads to an increase in one’s physical health, as we verily observe….

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. XIII, p. 104)

Becoming Aware of Faults Should Lead to Joy, Not Despondency

In reply to your letter ... in which you write about your general [dejected] state of mind, particularly of late, and you conclude by stating that you are under the impression that you are currently undergoing some form of spiritual decline:

It is important for you to know that such imaginations in general, and particularly when they lead to despondency — as you write in your letter — come from the evil inclination and from the “other side” [of holiness], as explained in Tanya regarding the condition of melancholy (atzvus) and the utter necessity of banishing it.

This is particularly so, since you merited that G‑d saw fit to place you in a resplendent environment, that being “a commandment [which] is a lamp, and the Torah, [which] is light” — [moreover, in the shining environment] of the “luminary of Torah,” which is the “inner portion of Torah,” [i.e., Chassidus]. Surely, then, you should be suffused with great joy at having merited this good fortune.

As to your feelings that you are deficient and flawed in a number of areas:

First of all, as stated above, it is possible that this is merely your imagination. Secondly, even if your opinion is based on fact, [then consider the following]:

It is similar to a person who was unwell and was oblivious to his ill health. Consequently, he did not safeguard himself from things that would be harmful to him and did not engage in things that would heal him, since he was under the impression that he was entirely healthy.

G‑d then made it known to that person that he was unwell. It follows that this [newfound knowledge of his true condition] offers hope that the person will begin occupying himself in matters that will heal him, and [that from now on he will] distance himself from matters that are harmful.

Surely, the fact that the true state of affairs was revealed to this individual, [with the consequent benefit of the person being able to restore himself to good health,] should not lead him to a state of despondency. On the contrary, this knowledge informs the individual and serves as a preparation for his restoration to good health.

Undoubtedly, similar to the overwhelming majority of people, you also possess both elements: To some degree your thoughts about your deficiencies are based on fact, and to some degree they are exaggerated by the “other side.”

To state it more accurately, [the evil inclination] presents the fault in [an improper context]; not in the correct area, but in another area.

(The [evil inclination’s] intent in doing so is twofold:

When the person will make an effort to improve in an area that does not need improvement, it will actually have a negative effect on that area that is not in need of improvement. Moreover, [making an effort in the wrong area] will damage his efforts in improving himself in the area that truly is in need of improvement. This matter is explained at length in many places in Chassidus as well as in books of Mussar.)

In a more general sense: It is known [regarding] the verse, “Serve G‑d with joy,” that when one serves with joy then his service is performed with greater alacrity and is blessed with greater success. And although the person is aware of his [spiritually deficient] state, the [flawed] state of his animal soul should not inhibit the joy of his Divine soul, as explained in Tanya….25

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. VI, p. 246)

Banishing Sadness Through Contemplating Love of
a Fellow Jew

I am in receipt of your letter...:

Meditating on the theme of ahavas Yisrael will help banish your despondency.

You have surely studied in depth chapter 32 of the sacred work of Tanya as well as Mitzvas Ahavas Yisrael in Sefer HaMitzvos, [i.e., Derech Mitzvosecha,] of the Tzemach Tzedek.

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. X, p. 42)

Combating Melancholy and Hopelessness Through Torah, Prayer and Lovingkindness

In reply to your letter of Motzaei Shabbos Kodesh,[Parshas] Bereishis, in which you write that you feel a sense of melancholy (atzvus) and hopelessness...:

It is well known that many, many chassidic discourses instruct us to recoil from a state and sense of atzvus, [and also discuss] how such a [negative] state of mind tremendously hinders one’s efforts in combating the evil inclination. Accordingly, one must rid himself of this feeling at the earliest possible opportunity, as it does not stem from [the side of] goodness [and holiness, but from the opposite side].

[The manner of combating atzvus is] similar to combating all other negative manifestations: by increasing one’s efforts in the direction of goodness [and holiness]. Even a small amount of light banishes much darkness, and how much more so when there is a great amount of light.

When you will study our sacred Torah assiduously and diligently, establishing fixed times for Torah study, permanently imbuing Torah within your soul, then your feelings of hopelessness and even melancholy will cease. For our holy Torah gladdens the heart and soul, as the verse states,26 “G‑d’s commands are upstanding, gladdening the heart.”

This is particularly so when you ponder the concept of individual Divine providence — that G‑d, the Essence of Goodness, watches over each and every individual throughout that person’s daily life, and moreover, watches over every aspect and detail of his life.

On his part, man need only see to it that he stand firmly attached to G‑d and ensure that he is an open vessel [for G‑d’s Divine blessings]. Man does so by following that which was written above, which in general terms consists of strengthening oneself in the three areas of Torah study, prayer, and performing acts of lovingkindness.

May G‑d grant you success in all the above, so that you will be able to convey to me the glad tidings that you are serving G‑d with joy.

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. X, p. 33)

Overcoming a Sense of Spiritual Angst, Hopelessness and Despair

I received your two letters — the first one undated and the second from Adar 22 — in a timely manner; however, the pressure of [my] activities did not enable me to respond until now….

I was very satisfied to read that you are making use of your artistic talent and are preparing an art exhibition, and that the media has given you good reviews….

Regarding the main part of your letter, where you bemoan your situation, feel brokenhearted, from time to time fall into despair, can find no place for yourself and so on, and you would like to meet with me in order to discuss the matter in person:

The meeting of two good friends always has positive value and brings spiritual satisfaction to both parties, but to delay tackling your problem until we are able to meet, and for you to continue meanwhile in the same mood of despair (G‑d forbid) — this cannot be. Whom among us can afford such a thing?

You do not write exactly what leads you to such a frame of mind, which is why it is impossible for me to go into the details of it and demonstrate to you that these details are imagined and that your despondent disposition is merely a result of the enticements of the evil inclination.

By this I mean: Even if this matter, [i.e., the cause of your angst,] does have some basis in reality, the fact that it is being utilized to stir up within you a sense of hopelessness and despair is surely a machination of the evil inclination and lacks basis in reality. My father-in-law, the Rebbe, would label the evil inclination “the cunning one,” since it uses the precise phraseology, [i.e., “it presses the precise button,”] that ensnares that particular person into its net.

I must interject here a general observation regarding this matter — doing so based on the maxim of the Baal Shem Tov — oft repeated by my father-in-law, the Rebbe — that every Jew can learn a lesson in his spiritual service through all that he sees and hears.

[In light of the above,] I wish to illuminate your situation in particular:

You surely are aware that the primary skill and gift of an artist and painter lies in his ability to detach himself from the superficial appearance of the image with which he is working. He must be able to penetrate the true essence of the object and transform his impression into a picture with physical dimensions.

This artistic representation reveals to the viewer that which he could not recognize on his own, an essence that was obscured by superficial layers. Only an artist has the skill to reveal the inner dimensions of an object, thus enabling the observer to see it with a different perspective and realize the limitations of his previous awareness.

[So, too, in the analogue,] “In a manner corresponding in every detail to the said figure and image,”27 does this apply in man’s service of his Creator:

We know from Torah in general and from Chassidus in particular that all of Creation derives from G‑d’s Divine Utterances, which constantly create and animate everything. It is merely that G‑d’s power of concealment and contraction obscures these Divine Utterances and we see only the external [manifestation; i.e., we only see the end result, the actual creation, and not the Utterances that are the true and inner aspect of all that exists].

Man’s spiritual service — based on the simple belief that there is “nothing aside from Him” — consists of applying this principle in all areas of our life. Consequently, each of us, according to our abilities, is to reveal to the greatest extent possible the G‑dliness within everything, and minimize as much as possible the concealing and obscuring aspect of the external manifestation [of creation] upon the inner dimension of G‑dliness within it.

The same is true in particular regarding every Jew, all of whom are “Children to the L‑rd your G‑d.”28 Concerning this it is stated in Tanya (ch. 2) that “Just as a child is derived from his father’s brain, so too is the soul of every Jew derived from G‑d’s thought and wisdom” and “He and His wisdom are one.”

This, then, is the true essence and being of each and every Jew, including you as well.

Since G‑d desired that the soul not have to receive its nurture from “bread of shame” (i.e., spiritual sustenance given gratuitously, without having been earned by the recipient), He therefore made it possible for man to serve Him; moreover, to serve Him in a manner that involves toil of body and soul. Through these endeavors one earns all manner of good, including the highest levels of spirituality.

The Alter Rebbe forewarns yet another matter in Tanya (conclusion of ch. 39):

We should not think that there are those who will not accomplish their soul’s mission, which, the Alter Rebbe states, simply cannot be, for “even when one engages in Torah and mitzvos not for its own sake (shelo lishmah), he will certainly arrive at [study and observance] lishmah, ... because “no one banished from Him [by his sins] will remain banished.” 29

We must therefore be vigilant in preventing external matters from obscuring man’s essence and the intent and purpose of his being.

The various difficulties, tests and personal challenges of refining oneself and one’s surroundings (birurim) are all means to the ultimate end — that the soul be able to arrive at its former state of purity prior to its descent into creation, as well as attaining even higher levels.

[The soul can accomplish this specifically here, in this physical world,] for “Better one hour of repentance and good deeds in this world than all the life in the World to Come.”30

Consequently, one should not permit the difficulty of withstanding the tests [that are placed before the individual —] or even if from time to time one has not withstood these tests — from overpowering the joy that one is to feel at being “My son, My firstborn son, Yisrael,”31 and from the assurance that we have from G‑d Himself that “your people are all righteous.”32

Therefore, when a Jew appears — particularly one who heard of the light of Chassidus, and more particularly, one who has himself studied Chassidus, and even more particularly, one who has been refined as a result of personal suffering — and writes that he is, G‑d forbid, in a state of hopelessness and despair, and finds no place for himself, etc., then this is not only contrary to the Jewish belief system, but it is also contrary to rational thinking as well!

G‑d offers His absolute and unqualified assurance that “no one banished from Him will remain banished,” nor does He demand that man perform beyond his capacity (for “G‑d does not make unreasonable demands of His creatures”33), rather that he performs according to his abilities.

G‑d then tells the person [that not only does he not have to perform to his capacity, but simply] that it will suffice if he, “Open up for Me [but the space] of the head of a pin, and I shall open up for you [a space as broad as] the opening of the Ulam [in the Holy Temple].”34

All the above is what G‑d says [and assures]. A human being then comes along and says that matters are actually quite different — and thus the resultant feelings of hopelessness, throwing up your hands in despair, and deluding yourself into thinking that your spiritual state is in a relentless state of decline!

The question then is: “When the words of the disciples contradict the words of the master, to whom do we listen?”35 [i.e., when G‑d says one thing and you say another, who do you think is correct?]

This is the question you must pose to yourself: You imagine things one way and G‑d says that it is not so — is there any question as to who is correct?

…When you begin doing that which you should be doing, even though you imagine that all you can begin to do is but [the size of] “the head of a pin,” then G‑d will grant you success and “open up for you [a space as broad as] the opening of the Ulam.”...

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. IV, p. 222)

Put the Somber Side of Your Nature to Good Use

…I must once again reiterate that which I have already told you many times: your gloominess and despondency (marah shechorah) are without foundation, and you are simply wasting your time and ruining your peace of mind, and — literally — your nerves, by fretting over concerns that have no basis in reality.

May G‑d will it that very shortly you begin to put this somber side of your personality to good use, by increasing your diligence in Torah study — and not only the revealed portion of Torah but in Toras HaChassidus as well.

“And one [force, i.e., the force for good,] will strengthen itself against the other [force for evil]”:36 by binding yourself to diligent Torah study, your marah shechorah will decrease in your life. May G‑d send you a speedy recovery, including [a speedy recovery from] your marah shechorah as well….

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. IV, p. 65)

Banish Your Negative Thoughts

You write about your gloominess, despondency and sadness:

It is superfluous to expound at length about [the undesirability of] something that has already been ruled against by our holy Nesi’im, and as has been explained in Tanya and many other places, how we must completely distance ourselves from atzvus and marah shechorah.

One does so by ceasing to think such [black] thoughts. If one cannot achieve this; [i.e., he finds it impossible to simply stop thinking negative thoughts], then one can accomplish this by not thinking about oneself but about G‑d — how He is the Essence of Goodness, etc.

When one truly desires [to banish these thoughts and feelings] and makes a concerted effort to do so, he will be successful [in his quest]. This is in accordance with the ruling of our Sages, of blessed memory: “If you strive, you will succeed.”37

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. VIII, p. 341)

Overcoming a Sense of Hopelessness

…Regarding the statement (from the author of the letter) about his feeling of hopelessness:

I am astonished that he is unaware that the endeavor to place feelings of hopelessness and the like in a person’s mind is among the most formidable tactics used by the evil inclination in order to get the person from performing his duties [and fulfilling his purpose in life]:

For then, [i.e., since the person believes that he has no chance of ever succeeding, etc.,] what can be demanded of him and why make an effort [to succeed at all? This is particularly so] since he has already declared (to others as well as to himself) that he has given up all hope, etc.

Veritable proof that the source of the above [sense of hopelessness] emanates from the evil inclination [and is not a result of true clinical depression] is that his feelings of hopelessness have not minimized in the slightest his desires for physical pleasures.

(From a letter of the Rebbe, printed in Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXXIX, p. 297)

Sense of Hopelessness Should Be Entirely Banished

You write about [your difficulties regarding] your health and getting established, and you conclude that at times you reach a state of despair and hopelessness (yi’ush), and so on:

I surely need not expound at length that an attitude of hopelessness is totally inappropriate and undesirable, for our Torah — the Torah of Life — specifically commands us to “never give up hope.”38 Both Tanya as well as other books of Chassidus explain at length how there is absolutely no place for loss of hope.

In truth, the negation of hopelessness is an essential part of the faith of every single Jew — as all Jews are “believers, sons of believers” — that G‑d is the Essence of Goodness and that it is He Who actually conducts this world and watches over each and every individual with individual Divine providence.

This, of course, leads to the inescapable conclusion that “Everything that G‑d does, He does for the good”39 — for the particular goodness of the individual over whom He watches….

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. XVI, p. 295)

Loss of Hope of Bearing Children

This is a reply to your letter in which you write of your mood, your hope, and your request of G‑d that you should bear healthy children.

Since this is one of the most important mitzvos in our holy Torah, “the Torah of Life,”40 one must be firm in one’s trust in the Creator of the world that He will make it possible for you and your husband to fulfill it.

However, it is self-understood that one cannot point to the calendar and tell G‑d that this must happen when it feels right to oneself. For since G‑d is the wellspring of good, He certainly knows what time is good, and that is when He will fulfill your hearts’ desires in a positive way. One can only — with strong trust in the fulfillment of one’s request — pray that this should come about as soon as possible.

As to what you write about losing hope, G‑d forbid: a daughter of Israel must not say this, because G‑d is omnipotent, and He desires that things should be good for every Jew not only on a spiritual level, but also on the actual material level.

With blessings that your prayers regarding the above subject will be fulfilled soon and that we should hear glad tidings from you,

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. XII, p. 109)

Banishing Suicidal Thoughts

…Contemplate, study repeatedly, and thoroughly memorize those themes that are elucidated in many places regarding the subject of individual Divine providence.

Realize that they are true in the simplest and plainest sense — that the Creator and Conductor of the world watches over every aspect of each and every individual in the minutest detail.

This will lead you to the inescapable conclusion that those matters about which you write should not constitute a source of worry and concern; surely there is no room for your request — or as you state in your letter, “a very strong request” — for the opposite of life, G‑d forbid.

Meditate on the fact that the souls of each and every Jew emanate from under G‑d’s Throne of Glory and descend below into a physical body (and this is a tremendous descent, for there is absolutely no comparison between the soul as it exists above and the soul as it exists in the body below). Yet, this descent is worthwhile in order for the Jew to exist and be productive specifically in this world, which is to say that it is [specifically here that the Jew is] able to study Torah and perform mitzvos.

This leads to the understanding that each and every deed (for example, wearing tefillin) is so great that it is entirely beyond our comprehension. The same is true as well regarding all other matters of Torah and mitzvos (for the entire Torah is compared to tefillin).

Contemplating these matters and the like will enlighten your true condition in life — that you were granted the best of all opportunities: the ability to fulfill the Divine mission that G‑d entrusted to you within this world, by leading your life in consonance with the directives of our Torah, the Torah of Life.

Work on these matters joyfully — as explained in the Rambam at the conclusion of Hilchos Lulav, and see also Rambam’s ruling in the beginning of the second chapter of Hilchos Deos.

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. XIV, p. 201)

Negating thoughts of suicide

…You write that you feel compelled to… [G‑d forbid, put an end to your life].

Understandably, this is not true at all. No Jew is forced to do something that is, G‑d forbid, opposite G‑d’s desire. I want you to take note as well that any effort in this direction will in any event prove fruitless, since as long as the soul does not fulfill the mission it was commanded from the Giver of the Torah, it is destined to be reincarnated again and again in this world [until it finally accomplishes its mission]. Merely, that when a person [not only does not fulfill the mission, but moreover is] the cause of its ruination, then his soul’s future incarnation becomes even more difficult. I need not go on at length about something that causes so much anguish. Moreover, it is clear that all the reasons and excuses that you write about are claims that emanate from an unholy source and have absolutely no foundation in reality.

May G‑d will it that you come to realize the truth, which is good, spiritually as well as materially. With blessings for glad tiding.

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. XIV, p. 205)

Awareness of One’s Purpose in Life Assures Life’s Continuation

Your41 letter of August 22 reached me with some delay. In it you present a fairly clear picture of yourself, your background, education, spiritual vicissitudes, and present state of mind which you describe in rather dismal colors, and you conclude with the hope that I may be of some help to you.

Permit me then to make an observation, which is strikingly evident from the general tenor of your letter, and which I believe also holds the clue to the solution.

Your whole letter — two and half closely typewritten pages — is full of your own expectations and disappointments, as if everybody owes you everything, but no one has a claim on you.

Yet even a brief reflection will clearly reveal that the universe we live in is ordered in a system of give and take, and the personal universe of the individual (the microcosm) must likewise conform to this system of reciprocal relationship. Consequently, when one disrupts or distorts this system, it must necessarily bring about a distortion in one’s immediate surroundings, and especially in one’s inner life.

Now, judging by your own description, Divine Providence and the society in general have been quite generous to you. You have been gifted with more than the average measure of intelligence and mental capacities; you have been given opportunities of education, etc. In other words, you have been on the receiving end, but — forgive me for being so blunt — it did not occur to you, judging from your letter, that you might owe something to the society; that you might have obligations to participate in it actively and help to better it by putting to good use some or all of the mental gifts and capacities with which you have been endowed. Heaven knows that our society is far from perfect and that there is much to be done in the way of raising its standards of justice and morality. It is the basic duty of everyone to contribute one’s share towards this end.

So far, I have been speaking in general terms. When the individual in question happens to have the good fortune of being a Jew, his duties and obligations go infinitely higher, especially in this day and age, after one third of our people (quantitatively, and much more so qualitatively) have been annihilated. For, everyone who has been spared that fate must now contribute not only his normal share, but also make up the terrible gap that has been created in the life of our tortured people. One must now work for at least two, towards the preservation of our people and fulfilment of its destiny.

As for the question, wherein lies the preservation of our people, and what is its historic destiny? — the answer is not difficult to find if we examine the pages of our history throughout the many centuries of our sojourn among the nations of the world. It is neither power, nor country, nor even a common language that preserved us in the past, but our Jewish way of life in accordance with the Torah, Toras Chayim (the Law of Life) and Mitzvos, whereby Jews live. Those who sought new ways, or staked the future of our people on other factors — and there were such groups who made such attempts, viz. Kuthites, Saducees, Hellenists, Karaites, etc. — disappeared without trace. Only the eternal Torah and Mitzvos, the true Jewish way of life, preserved us in the past, as will preserve us in the future. This is the golden thread that runs throughout our long history.

If the person turning to me with such a problem as you describe were a gentile, I would say to him: You are too much wrapped up with yourself, with your own emotions and feelings and aspirations. Stop being concerned with your own problems. The way to cope with such an emotionally charged situation is to stop trying to cope with it. You must get away from yourself, and begin to think of others. It is time to begin an active participation in the society; to give, and give generously. The opportunities are many, and the need is great. You have your choices: social work, charitable, or even scientific.

But you are a Jew, and your obligations go beyond the above. You must live like a Jew in your daily life, the Jewish way of life, the way of the Torah and Mitzvos, and you must use your influence with others in the same direction. Some people think the Torah and the Jewish way is “old fashioned,” they are both misguided and unscientific. Truth never gets “too old,” can never get stale. Only falsehood, half truth and compromise can not last long; but truth is enduring and timeless.

It may require courage and resolution to change one’s way of life. But these are qualities with which youth is generously endowed, and you are a young man, nineteen, as you write. You are capable of facing this challenge boldly.

We are now in the very auspicious days of Elul, when the old year is about to give way to the new. This is the time of Teshuvah. “Teshuvah” is usually translated as “repentance,” the turning over of a new leaf. It is this and more, for the real meaning of Teshuvah is “return” — return to the source, the source of truth, purity and holiness, the very essence of the Jew, whose soul is truly a part of the Divine above.

Wishing you a Kesivah vachasimah tovah,

(From a letter of the Rebbe in the year 5721)

If Unable to Free Yourself From Marah Shechorah, Utilize This Trait for Torah Study

I received your letter from this past Wednesday, and as has become your “sacred” custom, you conclude with a request for a blessing for success [as you feel that things are not going well for you].

It would seem that as soon as you crossed the border into Canada, your thoughts became filled with despondency and dejection (marah shechorah) once again.

I have already told you a number of times that you and your wife sheyichyu must put an end to your marah shechorah. If there is no other alternative — [then consider that] it is explained in Torah Or42 that marah shechorah can be utilized for diligence in Torah study.

[Using your marah shechorah extensively for diligence in Torah study will also have] the added benefit of protecting your health, as then you will not be morose over corporeal matters. [It will also have the positive effect of] providing you with spiritual sustenance, as you will be utilizing this trait for Torah study.

I await good news about your wife’s health and also that you will begin doing the above. It matters not if you will only be doing so under duress and in an unenthused manner,43 and also, that you both undertake to serve G‑d with a feeling of joy.

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. V, p. 14)

Overcoming Anguish and Distress Through Bitachon

After a pause [in your letter writing,] I was satisfied to receive your letter of the 8th of Kislev in which you write that your health has improved.

I concur with the professor [who stated] that your health problem stems from anguish and distress (agmas nefesh) — to be more precise, it derives from a certain degree of weakness in your bitachon (trust) in G‑d, Who not only creates the world but also conducts it, doing so in a manner in which His providence extends to each and every detail of a Jew’s life.

When you will think deeply about this matter, you will be convinced that “G‑d is with me; I shall not fear. What can man do unto me!”44— so much so that, upon finding himself in a precarious situation, King David said, “I will fear no evil, for You are with me.”45 Because of this [great degree of bitachon,] David was able to overcome all manner of adversity.

This tale [about David’s manner of conduct] was placed in the Torah — the word Torah also meaning “directive” — in order that this serve as a lesson to all Jews wherever they may be. [The lesson is as follows:] if the person will strongly persist in his recognition that “You are with me,” this will lead to the concluding verse of the chapter, “Only goodness and kindness shall follow me all the days of my life….”

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. X, p. 133)

Realize How Despondency Affects Those Nearest and Dearest to You

After not having heard from you for a long time, I finally received your letter dated Shevat 23, in which you describe your present [despondent] mood and also describe some of the past events in your life, [a number of which were unfavorable].

Notwithstanding the above, one must be “joyous and glad of heart,”46 as explained in our holy Torah and elucidated at even greater length in books of Mussar and Chassidus, where logical reasons are offered for this [feeling of joy to be possible even in the face of severe difficulties].

In Yad HaChazakah, at the conclusion of Hilchos Lulav, the Rambam also expounds on how one is to perform a mitzvah: [it should be performed with great joy]. Moreover, the verse states, “Know G‑d in all your ways”47 — that [all forms of] service must be with “gladness of heart.” This [service with joy] is also cited in Tur and Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim chapter 231.

If this manner of conduct is necessary for everyone, how much more so is it necessary for an individual who realizes that thinking about past conduct leads to a deterioration in health, or to a glum frame of mind. I trust that I need not expound [on this subject] at too great a length to someone like you.

May G‑d help that from now on you will be strong in your bitachon in G‑d, Who oversees every human being with individual Divine providence and Who is the Essence of Goodness. It is He Who commanded us that a Jew should be calm and not perturbed, and should serve Him serenely and joyously.

This manner of conduct is particularly important when G‑d grants an individual a wife and children, for the mood of the husband has an impact on the entire family as well.

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. XIX, p. 215)

Overcoming Despondency and Fear by Ingraining in One’s Psyche That G‑d Protects Us and There Is Nothing to Fear

…You write about your [dejected and fearful] state of mind:

You should reflect on how G‑d, Creator and Conductor of the entire world, oversees each and every one of us and protects us from untoward things — all that is necessary is that your daily life be conducted in accordance with the directives of our “Torah of Life” and the performance of its commandments, concerning which it is stated,48 “You shall live by them.”

[You therefore have nothing to be upset or fearful about, for,] in the words of [King David,] the “sweet singer of Israel,” “G‑d is with me; I shall not fear.”49

Contemplate the above again and again until it becomes ingrained in your psyche.

It would be proper for you to inspect the mezuzos of your home, assuring that they are all kosher according to Jewish law. You should observe the fine custom of Jewish women to always give tzedakah prior to lighting candles erev Shabbos and erev Yom Tov.

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. XXIV, p. 117)

There Is No Room for Despondency As Our Spiritual Battles Are Now Accomplished With Joy

I am in receipt of your letter of Wednesday and am amazed that you write there about your depressed state of mind, notwithstanding the fact that Divine providence placed you in the wonderful position of providing aid and encouragement to the downhearted and depressed.

[Our Sages declare]:50 “The attributes of the Holy One, blessed be He, [reflect man’s pattern] measure for measure,” moreover, this is many more times so.] Surely G‑d has encouraged — in many respects — that you never enter into such a [depressed] state, as the verse states, 51 “No illness shall befall you, for I am G‑d your healer.”

This is the manner of healing of the Creator and Conductor of the world: that there is no untoward situation from the very outset. This is not the case when healing follows an illness, where at least some vestige [of the illness] remains, as our Sages, of blessed memory, state in Yoma 86a.

May it be G‑d’s will that from now on you will place even greater emphasis on the verse52 “Serve G‑d with joy,” a manner of service that was so greatly stressed by our Rebbe, the Baal Shem Tov, by his disciples, and by their disciples.

This is particularly so in light of the ruling of the Rambam regarding the necessity of serving specifically in this [joyous] manner — see his wondrous words in Hilchos Lulav, which serve as a guide to those who are perplexed about this matter [— the necessity to serve G‑d with joy].

This [manner of service is of particular importance] in our times when each and every individual requires additional strength to battle negative forces. For there is the known aphorism of my father-in-law, the Rebbe, that when a soldier goes out to battle, he does so singing a joyous song of victory, which in itself enables and hastens the victory, as is readily understood....

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. XIV, p. 420)

Overcoming Dejection Through Joy

In reply to your letter ... written in the month of Adar II, a month in which one is to increase one’s measure of joy throughout the month, particularly as your letter was written several days prior to Purim, when one’s joy should be boundless:

Notwithstanding all the above, the content, and most importantly, the mood of your letter is not only not Purim-like, it is not even joyful.

After all the reasons and explanations that you provide in your letter [for your downheartedness], there still remains the command of G‑d — He Who is not only the Creator of the world, but also its Conductor — that one is to serve Him with joy. Surely G‑d is aware of all the reasons [that you mention in your letter which you attribute to your dejection,] and nevertheless He commands to be joyful.

This teaches us three things:

a) Since G‑d demands this [joy from us], then surely He has provided us with the capacity and ability to realize it, as “G‑d does not make unreasonable demands of His creatures,” and “When He requests, He only requests according to their, [i.e., created beings,] capacity [to fulfill this request].”

b) Even in such a situation [where there seems to be nothing to be joyful about], there are ample reasons for joy; all that is needed is the desire to keep one’s eyes open to those matters [from which one can be joyful].

c) In light of that which is explained in many texts, including the text of Tanya, ch. 26, [a despondent attitude is contrary to proper service of G‑d]: When one wants to be victorious in battle, particularly a difficult battle, then one must go about this with joy, and an open [i.e., responsive] heart that is unblemished by any trace of worry and sadness in the world, as explained there in Tanya at length.

There is also known the saying of my father-in-law, the Rebbe, of blessed memory: “A soldier on his way to the battlefront sings a march of victory and joy,” although he has yet to begin the battle. For the mindset of having firm faith and conviction in the certain victory in the approaching battle and the joy [that will result from this victory], in itself strengthens and hastens the victory in battle....

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. XIV, p. 481)

Finding Joy and Benevolence in Life By Being Benevolent to Others

I was truly astonished to read in your letter that you cannot find anything in your life to bring you joy — this, after having written that you have “thank G‑d, two very delightful and religiously observant daughters.”

Make an effort to minimize, as much as possible, thoughts such as, “What am I feeling?”; “Am I afraid of someone?” and so on.

Replace these thoughts with profound contemplation as to how you can assist and see to the needs of your neighbors or your relatives sheyichyu. Surely you will find many such matters [where you can be of benefit].

[Bear in mind that] one who acts benevolently toward one’s friend is rewarded with G‑d’s benevolence to an even greater extent [than the benevolence shown toward the other].

Since all matters are to be accomplished through natural means as well, consult a doctor who is also a friend (rofeh yedid).

(From a handwritten response of the Rebbe, Tishrei 12, 5743)

The Gift That Lifts One’s Spirits

Divine providence has granted you the opportunity to be of assistance to others — both to your family as well as others — through your communal activities (in the synagogue and the school, etc.). G‑d has thereby granted you a great and blissful gift, something that should give you tremendous satisfaction.

You should thus continue in your present job. As to your feeling that you should have a higher position there, [this should not be an impediment, for one’s status] is not of primary importance in life — that which is of greatest import is the good that one can do, etc.

(From a handwritten response of the Rebbe)

“Gladness Is in His Place”

…It would be worthwhile for you to study Shaar HaBitachon in the book titled Chovos HaLevavos and meditate on the matters that are explained there.

When you will contemplate — even for a short while — that each and every Jew believes with simple faith that there is “no place devoid of Him,”53 and [contemplate as well] the known ruling of our Sages54 on the verse “Strength and gladness are in His place,”55 [then you will come to recognize the following]:

That in accordance with the verse “One may not enter the King’s gate in a garment of sackcloth,”56 [i.e., one may not serve G‑d in a mournful state,] it is out of the question to disturb this joy of “Strength and gladness are in His place” through the depression of any individual, no matter who it is — even if the person temporarily thinks that there is justification for this assessment.

All the above does not require deep contemplation, for even slight consideration [of it] will suffice [for you to realize the truth and importance of these words]....

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. XI, p. 109)

Overcoming Negativity and Depression

I received your recent letter and the previous one. Needless to say, I was somewhat taken aback by the tone of your letter. It is a good illustration of how it is possible for a person to read and to learn and to receive instruction from books and teacher, and yet when it comes to actual experience all this instruction goes by the wayside.

I refer to the things which you have surely learned in [the books of] Mussar [Jewish ethical books] and especially Chassidus about the fact of the yetzer hara [evil inclincation] to instill spirit of depression, discouragement, and despondency in order to prevent the Jewish person from fulfilling his divine mission.

This is the most effective approach. If the yetzer hara would attempt to dissuade the person directly from fulfilling his mission, he would not be easily misled. However, instead, the yetzer tries to discourage the person in all sorts of ways, using “pious” arguments which, unfortunately often prove effective at least in some degree.

This is exactly what has happened in your case, and I am surprised that you do not realize it. The proof is that from the information that I have received, I can see that you have accomplished a great deal more than you imagine….

Considering further that every beginning is difficult, especially where there is a change of place, environment, language, etc., and yet the beginning has proved so successful, one is surely justified in expecting that as time goes on, and the initial difficulties are minimized and overcome, there will be a more than corresponding improvement in the good accomplishments….

Since one is only human, it is not unusual to relapse occasionally into a mood of discouragement. But as has been explained in the Tanya and in other sources, such a relapse should only serve as a challenge to bring fourth additional inner reserves and energy to overcome the tactics of the yetzer hara and to do even better than before.

I trust that since you wrote your letter your mood and outlook have considerably improved and that this letter will find you in a completely different frame of mind. Nevertheless, I am sending you this letter, since one is only human and subject to changes of mood as mentioned above.

Finally, I want to say that the above should not be understood to mean that if you do find yourself in the above frame of mind you should try to conceal it and not write about it. For our Sages have said, “when a person has an anxiety he should relate it to others”57 for getting something off one’s chest is in itself already a relief.

One should also bear in mind, as the Old Rebbe [Rabbi Schneur Zalman] has stated most emphatically in the laws of learning and of teaching children Torah, that a person who is engaged in teaching children Torah should especially take care of his health, as this has a direct effect on the success of the work.

I trust therefore that you are looking after yourself in matters of diet and rest, and that you will always be in a state of cheerfulness and gladness.

(From a letter of the Rebbe, dated 28 Teves, 5721)

Transforming One’s Feelings of Gloom and Depression In a Step-by-Step Manner

In reply to your letter in which you write about your present [dismal] state of mind and your [pessimistic] outlook toward the future, at least to the not-too-distant future, and you ask my opinion concerning this matter:

Understandably, I do not accept the foundations upon which you construct your [dismal and pessimistic] views and conclusions at all. By this I mean that I believe your [negative] state of mind to be only temporary and [your conclusions] not based on any [enduring] reality.

[Consequently,] the more you endeavor to cease [thinking these gloomy thoughts], the quicker your current mood and state of mind will change [for the better]. It is absolutely clear that you have the power and ability to be of benefit not only to yourself but to others as well.

Merely, like all matters in this world, it is almost always necessary to expend effort in order to reveal and develop this potential into reality. However, this is a degree of effort that is eminently attainable.

When a person will contemplate that his relatively brief efforts will benefit himself and also benefit others for many years — benefits for others that include either their spiritual or physical welfare or both, and that this benefit can then result in a series of unending benefits — then the person will easily understand that his efforts and exertions to achieve this end are well worthwhile.

Without a doubt, in the vast majority of instances, it is impossible to radically change one’s frame of mind instantaneously. However, this is not what is required; it will suffice that upon receiving my letter you will resolve to begin moving in the proper direction, i.e., to begin leading an active and constructive life and begin taking the first step in this direction.

Having done so, proceed [to change] step by step, one step leading to the other. You will soon discover that in a not overly long period of time you will find yourself on the road to a life of self-contentment and satisfaction....

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. XIII, p. 147)

Overcoming Feelings of Depression Caused by Lack of Additional Children

I received regards from you through your husband, who also told me of your present [depressed] frame of mind. And while this is quite understandable, it is necessary to bear in mind that the ways of G‑d are inscrutable, but always good, since He is the Essence of Goodness, and it is in the nature of the good to do good — however difficult it may sometimes be to comprehend.

Yet it is not at all surprising that a human being should not be able to understand the ways of G‑d. On the contrary, it is quite easy to see why a human being should not be able to understand the ways of G‑d, for how can a created being comprehend the Creator?

We must, therefore, be strong in our trust in G‑d and let nothing discourage us or cause any depression, G‑d forbid.

As a matter of fact, the stronger our bitachon in G‑d and in His benevolence, the sooner will come the time when G‑d’s overtly revealed goodness is experienced. You should therefore be confident that G‑d will eventually fulfill your and your husband’s hearts’ desires for good, to be blessed with additional healthy offspring.

(From a letter of the Rebbe, dated 22 Elul, 5730)

Forsaking Moroseness

…First and foremost, you and other appropriate community elders are to convey my astonishment to ... regarding the fact that he has seemingly yet to forsake his path of serving G‑d with an attitude of moroseness. That this path [of Divine service] is untenable needs no explanation, even to non-chassidim, as the verse [explicitly] states:58 “Serve G‑d with joy.”

This is particularly so regarding individuals who belong to the community of chassidim, as there is a directive of the Baal Shem Tov concerning serving G‑d with joy, most particularly so to those who verily observed G‑d’s miracles, that He took them out of their previous country, [viz., Russia]....

May G‑d assist that individual in his ability to serve Him with joy, thereby enabling him to convey joyful reports.

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. VIII, p. 299)

Dispelling Sadness and Melancholy Through the Study of Appropriate Texts

In reply to your letter of the 6th of Elul in which you write that you are sometimes sad and melancholy:

Since you begin your letter by stating that you learned in a Yeshivas Erev of Chabad, you are to ask the spiritual mentor there to learn those chapters in Tanya with you that speak about the disrepute of sadness and melancholy and how it can be overcome. Study this text a number of times until you have acquired a thorough knowledge of its contents. By doing so, you will feel better.

It would also be appropriate for you to check your tefillin. From now on, at least, begin observing the three well-known shiurim of Chumash, Tehillim and Tanya.

(Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXXIX, p. 325)

Feelings of Remorse — Determining Their Source

…When a person is constantly filled with thoughts and feelings of remorse over past misconduct, it is important to determine the source of these thoughts, whether they are emanating from the good inclination [and as such should be acted upon], or from the evil inclination [and should be pushed aside].

The best way of determining this is by examining the consequences of these thoughts: If they lead to additional energy and vitality in the performance of mitzvos, conducting oneself to an even stronger degree according to Jewish law ... then this is proof that these thoughts emanate from a pure source.

If, on the other hand, they lead to sadness and melancholy and neglect and laziness, or to feelings of hopelessness, then this is an indication that this emanates from the evil inclination (which clothed and hid itself within the garments of “G‑d fearingness”). For all the above hinder the individual in his service of G‑d….

(Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXXIX, p. 327)

Do Not Fashion Thoughts of Gloom and Doom: Refrain From Negative Thinking — It Creates Actual Negativity

In reply to your letter, which seems to indicate that I have not yet succeeded in lifting your spirits:

I believe that I have already told you many times that, according to that which is explained in Sefarim — not necessarily in books of Chassidus — one is not to manufacture thoughts of marah shechorah within this world. For by not creating such thoughts, it bodes well that these [negative] events will not come to pass at all.

Not only should we not create negativity through speech — similar to that which is stated in Chassidus (I believe this is printed at the conclusion of the Siddur Meah Shearim) that when the Mezritcher Maggid would think a new [Torah] thought, he would verbalize it in order to bring it down into this world — we should not even manufacture such negativity through thought.

The reason for this is as explained above; [i.e., that the negative event not become actualized as a result of his thinking it. What, in fact, should be done] is understood from the aphorism of our holy Rebbeim and Nesi’im, who were wont to say: “Think positively, and it will be positive.”

You undoubtedly imagine that it is very difficult to influence your power of thought to think in this [positive] direction, [although this is not necessarily so. However,] if this proves to be the case, [i.e., that it is difficult for you], then endeavor to clothe your power of thought within thoughts of Torah; the spiritual good [and positivism of Torah] will filter down into physical goodness [and positivism] as well.

The thrust of all the above is that the more you strengthen your faith and trust in G‑d — to the extent that it will impact even your thought, speech and action — the more you will succeed in implementing the above, and the greater will be your resulting material and spiritual sustenance.

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. VI, p. 286)

Negative Thoughts and Their Negative Effect

I have just received your letter from erev Shabbos Kodesh. It seems from your letter that once again you are in a depressed mood, etc.:

Why impair your mental state by coming up with so many negative ideas and thoughts, Heaven forfend?

I have alerted you concerning this a few times in the past, yet it seems that this message has not reached you — or as that word59 [in the Holy Tongue] is interpreted in Likkutei Torah at the beginning of Parshas Shemini, this message has not yet touched you....

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. VI, p. 276)

Negating Negative Thoughts and Questions Regarding One’s Health

I acknowledge your letter of the 5th of Teves in which you write about your [poor] state of health and that this has shattered your spirit:

Abandon this path [of negative thinking]. G‑d is, after all, the “Healer of all flesh and Performer of wonders.”60 Though it is impossible for us to discern G‑d’s intentions, which results in the evil inclination sometimes arousing within us unsettling questions and thoughts that hinder our spiritual and even physical health, we must always know that these questions and thoughts are merely a machination of the evil inclination.

We must be firm in our bitachon in G‑d that in time He will grant us healing for our ailments. And until that time, we still remain part of G‑d’s world, acting as his emissaries fulfilling our mission of spreading light in our environs, illuminating our Divine and animal souls with the light of Torah and mezutoraspirkei , and our surroundings, by disseminating there the light of Torah and Judaism....

In order for all the above to be accomplished in the best possible manner, it is necessary that we do so with a feeling of joy, as the verse states: “Serve G‑d with joy.”61 When you strengthen yourself [by contemplating the above], surely you will be assisted from on High to succeed in actualizing this matter.

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. VIII, p. 111)

Finding the True Cause for Sadness and Despair And Rectifying the Situation With Joy

I received your letter in which you describe the state of your [physical] health, as well as your [sad and despairing] state of mind.

From what I can ascertain from your letter, I must emphasize that there are various aspects of your life for which you can be truly grateful to G‑d.

Understandably, this does not mean that the tormented state in which you now find yourself is completely without basis. Nevertheless, a person must be able to see the complete picture [including all the good that has transpired in his life, and] not only the negative part.

It should not be difficult for a woman with a background like yours and possessing faith such as you do to contemplate G‑d’s benevolent providence, which He provides to each and every one individually. Moreover, G‑d is the Essence of Goodness, and “It is in the nature of he who is good to do good.”

When one ponders these thoughts, one must inevitably come to the same conclusion as did King David, the author of the Psalms, who declared: 62 “G‑d is with me; I shall not fear.”

To the contrary, you have all the reasons to be joyous and glad of heart, particularly since a joyous attitude on your part will have a beneficial effect on your entire family. Merely, it is important for you to bear in mind, as mentioned above, that you indeed possess many things for which you should be grateful and which should cause you joy.

It happens quite often that an individual whose mood is similar to yours seeks to discover the basis for his [unhappy] frame of mind, thinking that the answer he comes up with is the true cause for all his problems [and unhappiness], when in truth the root cause may be something else entirely.

This is particularly true of a Jewish man or woman whose true joy is entrenched in living a full Jewish life, i.e., a life that is in complete harmony with the path of Torah and mitzvos given to us on Sinai and that made us into a holy nation. The particulars of how to live a Jewish life are meticulously detailed in the Shulchan Aruch, a book that spells out Jewish law and daily conduct.

If for one reason or another one’s daily life is not in complete accord with the Jewish way of life as commanded by G‑d, it is impossible for a Jew to be completely happy and content, inasmuch as something vital is missing from his life. It is possible that the person is unaware of this, for which reason he will search for the cause of his discontent and unhappiness in other areas.

On the other hand, when a Jew is steadfast in his outlook that he will live in complete harmony with the Jewish way of life, then he is capable of being completely happy and content.

The above is something that can be achieved by every Jew, although for some it may be easier than for others. This capacity surely exists since G‑d, the Creator and Conductor of the world and the Commander of these commandments, also provides the person with the capacity to fulfill His commands.

Of course I am aware of the question of how it is that there are many individuals who are seemingly detached from the path of Torah and mitzvos and nevertheless seem to be completely happy, and so on.

The answer is simple. No one really knows what is transpiring in the heart and mind of another individual. Additionally, a person can conceal his inner dissatisfaction and unhappiness, although sooner or later this must come to the fore.

It would be worthwhile for your husband to check his tefillin, and before he puts them on each weekday morning he should give a small coin to tzedakah. It would also be worthwhile that the mezuzos in your home be checked to assure that they are kosher according to Jewish law. You as well should give a small coin to tzedakah prior to lighting candles.

I hope to hear from you good news.

(From a letter of the Rebbe, dated 12 Kislev, 5725)

The Spiritual Effects of Groundless Despair and Loss of Hope63

1) I received [your letter that contained the good news that the tumor has largely vanished]. Thank you ever so much for the good news.

2) I was understandably stunned and shocked when I read this, [i.e., that you have given up hope, etc.]. You witnessed a clear miracle from Heaven — and then you write this?!

May G‑d in His abundant mercy forgive you, and may no impression remain [Above] from your letter.

(from a handwritten response of the Rebbe)

Negative Fantasies of Hopelessness and Despair

…You write that you suffer from an ailment — although you don’t say what it is — and that at any moment you are likely to undergo a serious heart attack, etc., G‑d forbid. (It appears to me that this is not the case, and that — begging your pardon — this is an extreme exaggeration.)

You write further that a partition of iron is separating [you from your Father in Heaven] and that your prayers and charitable contributions have had no effect, and so on.

Without a doubt, you yourself also understand that all this is no more than fantasies. For even if there were a partition of iron, the Sages assure us in plain words that “even a partition of iron cannot separate the Children of Israel from their Father in Heaven.”64

The same applies to what you write about how your prayers and especially the tzedakah (charity) you distribute have had no effect. I saw in a little book — it’s called the Tanach — where it is written (Malachi 3:10)that the Holy One, blessed be He, says: “Test Me, please, in this,” in the mitzvah of tzedakah — that if only people will give tzedakah, “I will pour down blessings upon you,” and so on. The same applies to prayer, as is explained in many sources in the teachings of the Sages.

Above all, as is clarified in the works of Chassidus, this is one of the counsels by which the evil inclination plunges a man into melancholy. And if one must be vigilant not to fall into melancholy over spiritual reasons, how much more wary must one be of melancholy that comes from some other source, for there is nothing worse than that.

You should consistently fortify your trust in what even the most feckless of Jews believe — that the Holy One, blessed be He, is not only the Creator of the world but that He also conducts it, and not only long ago, but also presently, every day and at every hour. Moreover, He conducts not only the world in macrocosm, but also all the affairs of the microcosm, man.

G‑d, who is the ultimate good, will no doubt enable you to see, even with eyes of flesh, that everything will be for the best, even in the kind of good that is visible.

For this, however, one must strengthen one’s bonds of hiskashrus with the G‑d of Life — by setting aside fixed times to study the Torah of Life; by serving Him through the serviceof prayer — acting benevolently toward your Living Soul; and by fortifying your observance of the mitzvos, and of the comprehensive mitzvah of tzedakah, for “the truth of tzedakah is for life.”65

I hope that in the near future you will let me know of an improvement in your material situation and likewise of an improvement in your spiritual situation — namely, the disappearance of thoughts about a separating partition, etc., etc. — and that you will make strenuous endeavors to fulfill the command of the Holy One, blessed be He, to: “Serve G‑d with joy.”66...

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. IV, p. 292)

Life’s “Descents” Are No Cause for Dispiritedness

…A person’s life does not always proceed smoothly, and since one has the will and the capacity to ascend, this very fact also creates the possibility of descent.

Accordingly, one should not become overwrought or dispirited (G‑d forbid) when one observes a descent, especially when that descent relates only to material things, and especially since it happened through no cause of your own.

Indeed, a descent ought to arouse — from deep within oneself — greater powers of faith and trust, whose external manifestation is a courageous spirit and a lack of emotional reaction to an unpleasant phenomenon, particularly when it lasts only very briefly....

(Igros Kodesh, Vol. VIII, p. 128)