May 29, 2024
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Combatting Anxiety and Depression Through Emunah

Part II

As I noted in the previous article in this series, anxiety is an emotion that is deeply rooted in the uncertainty that so many are suffering with during the challenging time of COVID-19. Yet, there is a positive side to anxiety, as a motivational force. For example, we imbue a healthy dose of anxiety in our children to ensure that they avoid falling prey to dangerous temptations, and when they transgress, we punish them to prevent repetition of their mistakes. It is all for good! At one time or another we have all experienced a situation whereby we learned that without a reasonable level of anxiety we would be lax in protecting ourselves against the forces of nature and the dangers in our surroundings. On a practical level, assuring that we are at least minimally protected from harm and equipped in obtaining shelter, food, clothing and other life-sustaining basics may cause some tension; yet, at the same time, it also motivates us to accomplish these goals, as well as achieving growth and success as individuals and family units. Unfortunately, the converse is true as well, and we have to face the truth that the spread and enduring nature of this pandemic is due to our failure to tap into our innate anxiety that motivates us to combat the harmful contaminants in our surroundings.

From a spiritual level, we can most certainly conjecture that the prolonged nature of COVID-19 is partly due to the length of time it is taking all of us to be on board with the messages Hashem is sending us. We have to wonder that it may be the failure to adhere to the recommended cautions, and doing so in a public manner. On a spiritual level, it is important to remember that we live in a “glass house,” and are famously known as the Chosen People. As a result, we are vulnerable to jealousy and sibling rivalry by the “other” children of God. Our rabbis often remind us that in essence we are souls that are clothed by our bodies and must do all we can to make sure they are well-fed and safe. We must never lose sight of this precious gift by competing with God and making our own rules. Based on these truths, if we buy into this and visit Hakadosh Baruch Hu numerous times in the day via our tefillot, learning, and acts of chesed toward others in need, our “loneliness” meter will decline while our simchat hachaim meter will substantially rise. Once fully nourished, like a baby in the arms of his or her mother, the tension, anxiety and loneliness will fade away. Following in this path will also allow us to go out of ourselves and respond to the needs of others, the next necessary step in loosening the bond of anxiety and depression, an antidote that works far better than giving in to self-pity.

In a shiur by Rabbi Baruch Simon, he weighs in on the second pasuk I mentioned in the first article of this series. In Shoftim (18:13) we read: “Tamim tihyeh im Hashem Elokecha—You shall be wholehearted with Hashem your God.” He makes a connection between this charge of “Tzedek, tzedek tirdof,” the righteousness with which we must always conduct ourselves, noted in Part I of this series. He explains, by referring to commentaries of Rashi and the Sifrei on the meaning of this pasuk. Our rabbis posit that it is specifically when we “look ahead to Him, trust in what He has in store for us, and accept it with wholeheartedness” that we are worthy of being whole and complete with Him, a “piece of His portion.” This, I believe, speaks to the consistency of Hakadosh Baruch Hu as the God of “goodness.” In fact, this value of consistency is noted in our tefillah of Shema with the words: “…Hashem Elokeinu, Hashem echad.” With these words we affirm that the God of Mercy and the God of Strict Justice is one and the same. This is because every act that emanates from God is sourced in His goodness. We know this because Yaakov uttered this prayer when he reunited with his beloved son Yosef after a 22-year-long separation from him. During those years, while he suffered such loneliness and despair, he never really lost his faith. This was because deep in his heart He believed in the truth of these words, even though He didn’t understand how this could be so, given his loss. This consistent display of emunah is the true meaning of “Tamim tihiyeh im Hashem.” Most importantly, taking this step of affirming Hashem’s goodness, throughout all the vicissitudes Hashem sends our way, is critical in consistently sustaining our engagement with Him and dramatically decreasing our anxiety and depression meters throughout all of our challenges.

Given the above insights, while we know achieving the charge of “tamim tihyeh” is possible, we also know it won’t always be easy to accomplish. We come face to face with the reality that Hashem does not expect us to understand the reason for all of our challenges, yet He asks us to believe in Him and take comfort in the truth that we are meant to approach them, filled with the emunah that every nisayon is in our best interest for the sake of our spiritual growth. The test of faith here is not to find the answer to the “lamah, why?” Rather, that which He truly asks of us is to figure out how we can respond to the challenges we face by asking ourselves, “L’mah,” for what reason did Hashem place this challenge at my door, and how does He expect me to respond, and most importantly, does my response fulfill the charge of retaining my status of “tamim, wholehearted,” with Him?

I believe that the answer to this essential question is in the above-mentioned treasured tefillah of Shema. Yaakov taught us that in each challenge Hashem sends our way, He is comforting us with the following message: “My dear children, life is full of the ‘bitter’ and the ‘sweet,’ the ‘dark’ and the ‘light.’ Enjoy the sweet while the taste and smell is still strong, and endure the bitter for the best it is meant to bring out of you.” I believe that viewing all of our challenges from this perspective can be transformative. This is because in growing into this mindset, we can learn to recognize and appreciate the light in our lives while it is still shining on us. Perhaps, if we show Hakadosh Baruch Hu that we learned this lesson, He will be encouraged to return the pieces we are yearning for. Let us also understand that even during the dark times, our challenges are intended as vehicles of growth, rather than punishments. Let us avoid failing to take advantage of these gifts by going out of ourselves and showering our chesed on those in our surroundings via love and patience in our hearts, rather than judgment. In doing so we will feel fulfilled and experience the immense joy of bringing joy to another. This, my friends, I believe is the antidote, the spiritual vaccine, that will ensure our safety and encourage Hashem to fulfill our wish for the release of the physical, emotional and spiritual bondage we find ourselves in. May our challenges remain small, and may we meet and greet them with the knowledge and bravado of those who are fortified by the certainty of Hashem’s goodness and the fortification of being tamim, wholehearted, with Him.

As we prepare for the Yomim Noraim, let us take the lessons of the Torah seriously. In doing so, let us commit to using the insights of our Torah to planning our journey of spiritual growth for the coming year. May the merit of our faith in the consistent goodness of Hashem encourage Him to accept our imperfections and appreciate our efforts to meet the charges of “Tzedek, tzedek tirdof…” and “Tamim tihyeh im Hashem…” Let us pray that Hashem rewards us by doubling up in the yeshua, redemption, He sends our way. May He put an end to COVID-19, and at the same time bring forth the geulah sheleimah we await with joy and anticipation! Let the trumpets play loud and strong as we sing: “L’shanah haba’ah b’Yerushalayim,” im yirtzeh Hashem, this year of “tav shin pei-tav shin pei alef.”


Renee Nussbaum is a practicing psychoanalyst with special training in imago relational therapy. She can be reached at [email protected].

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