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Friday, 20 November 2015

Are your demons king over you?

Daf Yomi Sotah 24


Ever read Koheles (Ecclesiastes)?  “Vanity and nothingness; everything is empty. . . “ Pretty depressing, right?  There’s got to be some background story to it all!  Our Sage explain that Shlomo Hamelech composed the Megillah when he was at his lowest point.  After a few bad spiritual moves in his life, the arch-demon, Ashmedai, deposed him from the throne and took his place, impersonating the king.   And so, for a period of time, Shlomo was exiled and spent his days begging door-to-door, with nothing but his cloak and his staff.

The Maharal explains that he wasn’t literally dethroned.  A demon did not literally stand in for him as an impostor king.  Rather, our Sages are explaining King Shlomo’s state of mind at that point.  He was so down that he might as well have been out on the street begging.  Only with the guidance of the Sanhedrin was he able to pull himself out of his depression and regain his lofty spiritual stature.  But the episode taught him an important lesson that he conveyed to us for all time: all the money and prestige in the world is meaningless unless one has the right spiritual frame of mind.

The Torah states, “A man, a man, whose wife shall stray.”
Beraisa: Why does the Torah repeat ‘a man’? It comes to include the wife of a deaf-mute, the wife of a madman, and the wife of a confused man.
Rashi explains the meaning of confused: He is stricken with confounding of the heart.

Confounding of the heart is one of the terrible afflictions mentioned in the curses of the Book of Devarim.  What exactly is it?  Rabbeinu Meyuchas describes the condition as the inability to move due to heaviness of the heart.  Today, we have a name for the condition: depression.  

If the Beraisa has already mentioned the madman, why the need to mention the depressed man?  Because, in a certain way, depression is much worse than insanity.   You can be a little meshuga, but still accomplish a great deal.   But when you’re depressed, you end up doing nothing and achieving nothing.

Those were the ‘exiled’ years of Shlomo Hamelech.  He may not have been literally, physically exiled.  But he was going through such a spiritual and emotional low that he might as well not have been there physically.  Sure, his body was present, but his depressed mind was trapped, wallowing in its own sorrow.

There is a Chasidic aphorism that teaches that there is one thing that is not a mitzvah, but is more powerful than any mitzvah; and there is one thing that is not a sin, but is worse than any sin.  What is greater than any mitzvah?  Joy.  What is worse than any sin?  Depression.   Why?  Because when you are in a joyous state, you can conquer the world; you can accomplish anything you put your mind to.  But when you are sad and depressed, even the simplest of tasks, like getting dressed in the morning, feels like you’re carrying a ton of bricks.

Some forms of clinical depression are beyond the ability of a person to cure on their own and one must seek professional help; we’re not talking about those chemical imbalances.  In most other cases of general day-to-day depression, the mood is often self-inflicted. Something’s gone awry in your life, it didn’t quite go the way you planned or expected – and all of a sudden, you shut down.

That initial reaction sometimes can’t be helped.  After all, you’re human.  It’s what you do after that that determines how much of a gibor (hero) you are.  Pirkei Avot teaches, “Who is a hero?  One who conquers his inclination.”  Your inclination at that point is to wallow in your defeat, getting more and more depressed about the conversation that didn’t go your way, the business that fell through, the grades you didn’t get.

The gibor beats his inclination and says: I refuse to be defeated.  I am not going to have my heart confounded with self-pity.  I am strong.  I am powerful.  I will not spiral down headfirst into depression.  The power to rise again is in my hands alone.

You are a gibor!  You have so much to accomplish in this world!  You can’t afford to waste a day or a week feeling sorry for yourself; there’s just too much to do in your short mission on Earth!  Like Shlomo Hamelech, you will conquer your demons and restore yourself to the throne: if you know it will happen eventually, why wait?  Let it be now!  You have way too much potential to hold back your success for even a moment of ‘feeling down’-time!


Depression is worse than insanity.  The more you feel sorry for yourself, the deeper you are allowing your inclination to push you down into the pit of failure.  May you merit being a gibor and never wasting a moment of your mission in this world!