Believing Jews know that people are here to get to know God, and to work on rectifying their souls, which is primarily accomplished by acknowledging and fixing our negative character traits and flaws, and asking God to help us uproot them.
Now, people just don’t tend to do that sort of tough ‘inner work’ when their life is fine and dandy. It usually takes a health crisis, a cash crunch, a personal relationship that’s really going off the rails, or some other form of serious suffering before a person will wake up, re-examine their lives, and start doing the spiritual work described above which is the whole point of being alive.
When we hit these very difficult patches, situations and experiences, they often (usually…) completely take the legs out from under us. Again, this has been carefully designed by God to show us our own hopelessness and frailty, so that we’ll turn to Him and include Him more in our lives (and stop believing all that ‘masters of our own destiny’ arrogant baloney that’s so common in the West).
Tough experiences and tests doesn’t just mean things happening to us from the outside. In 2017, more than ever, they also include all the head-trips, paranoia, panic attacks, anxiety, difficult emotional states, and other feelings of depression and despair that every single one of us is going through right now.
Writing in the Garden of Healing, Rav Shalom Arush tells us: “The modern world is characterized by emotional weakness and its associated diseases. In the past, there were life-threatening situations, but people lived with a spirit of vitality: they enjoyed life and they looked forward to ‘living’ each day.
“Today, the most tranquil and comfortable life is really no life at all, because people lack basic joy and contentment in their lives and they really have little will to live. This is the biggest problem we face today in these final days of our exile: weak souls that are filled with constant pain.”
The Gemara teaches us that: there is no suffering without prior sin. But where this is often misunderstood is that the ‘sin’ doesn’t necessarily have to have happened in our present lifetime. Reincarnation is a basic tenet of the Jewish faith, and our Sages teach us that whatever we messed up in a previous lifetime, particularly in the area of interpersonal relationships, we will be sent down here again to rectify and fix it.
As mentioned above, nearly all our ‘rectification’ work will revolve around two things:
- Getting to know God better, and strengthening our emuna in His Divine providence and goodness
- Identifying, acknowledging and uprooting our bad middot and negative character traits.
WHY THE PILLS DON’T WORK TO SOLVE EMOTIONAL ILLNESSES
With that basis set out, now we can start to see why the pills don’t work to cure mental and emotional illnesses. Firstly, those negative emotions are coming to give us a message from Shemayim about what needs to changed, examined or fixed in our lives.
The single biggest reason adults feel clinically depressed (according to scientific research!) is because they were emotionally abused and emotionally neglected as children.
Pssst, here’s a secret: Every single one of us comes from a really screwed-up, dysfunctional family these days, and the more ‘perfect’ it looks on the outside the more messed-up it really is.
That’s why all these emotional illnesses are coming to the fore more than ever before, because God is making it SO CLEAR that something needs to change in the way we interact with each other, and particularly with our kids.
So now, what happens if we go the ‘pills and shrinks’ route to dealing with things like serious depression and anxiety, instead of doing what I’ve described above, and coming clean about what’s really causing our emotional issues?
- We try to ‘turn off’ the warning light that God is sending us via our strong emotions.
- That means we don’t fix the problem, we at best cover it up.
- We continue to excuse all the bad, horrible behavior (ours and other people’s) that made us emotionally ill.
- We pass the problem on to the people around us, especially our children, because we don’t fix our bad middot and continue to mistreat others the way we ourselves were mistreated.
- We fail to fix our souls - which is the whole point of coming down here in the first place.
- We fail to get closer to Hashem, or to work on our emuna, which is the other whole point of coming down here in the first place.
And the last thing to say is that whatever the parents don’t fix, just gets passed along to their children to have to deal with and fix. So if mom’s depression problem was seriously bad, her kid’s depression (and ADHD, and BPD, and C-PTSD…) is going to be three times worse…
(As a side note on how this works in the ‘natural’ world: when people take anti-depressants, they typically become much more superficial, cut off from their feelings (and other people’s feelings) and less empathetic. A lack of parental empathy and real caring is a key factor in emotional neglect and emotional abuse. When a kid grows up in a house with an emotionally-absent parent, that in turn skyrockets their own probability of becoming clinically depressed (amongst other emotional illnesses…) as an adult.)
There are no short-cuts!
We are down here to work on our souls. We are down here to fix things. We are down here to feel bad in order to motivate us to learn some emuna and to stop behaving like jerks.
A while back, a correspondent told me that she liked anti-depressants because they ‘let her function like a normal human being, without having to do the work.’
That sounds great - except doing the work is the whole point of being alive. And THAT’s why God is simply not going to let us get away with popping pills instead of praying and working on our bad middot.
To do otherwise would be undermining the very purpose of creation.