The nature of melancholy is curious, for it affects a person’s very ability and even desire to control himself – it is a state that affects a person’s ability to leave that state, and therefore it is self-perpetuating. However, a human being has the ability to make himself leave that state. You can liken it to physics, for just as a gravitational force binds things to the ground and resists allowing them to fly up into the atmosphere, sadness operates in the same way, it pulls you down. Just as a spaceship uses the most energy to get itself to leave the drag of the atmosphere, so too does a person who is experiencing sadness need to blast his energy to a particularly high level to leave the gravity of his sadness, and then once he has left the gravitational pull and his floating in the atmosphere, then he can turn it down a few notches (not off) and float comfortably and normally, in the way to which he is hopefully accustomed.

Another thing about the nature of sadness, of the yetzer harah (evil inclination), is that it causes one to think and feel as if his end is near, or as if anything is worthless, and therefore it causes him to perpetuate false negative realities about himself to himself. The effect is that it causes a person to think as if he is hopelessly lost or has drifted beyond relief away from the things that he so treasures and to which he would like to aspire. It blinds him to the fact that he indeed still possesses these wonderful character traits and abilities, and persuades him to argue to himself against his value.

The final thing about the yetzer harah is that it tells a person that his connection to his spirituality, to God, is either gone or entirely clouded over, but this is a total lie; a person’s connection to God can never be entirely stampered out, this is an impossibility because Man was made in the image of God. Since God is an eternal Fire, as it were, a human being has an eternal flame within him/her that perpetually burns, and therefore all a person must do is become aware of that perpetually burning flame and he will reconnect with himself and then with God, and raise himself from his position. A person must be in control of his mind, for his emotions are like animals (something the Ramcha"l {Rabbi Moshe Chayim Luzzatto} speaks about in length in Derech Hashem), and do not always want to do what they are told. Sometimes it is useless to try to make yourself happy by acting happy, for the emotion, like the animal, has no incentive to do so. Rabbi Moshe Chayim Luzzatto explains that a person must train his animal to do as he pleases, for it can overpower him. The way I understand this is that an animal, such as an elephant, might be physically stronger than a person, but it is mentally weaker, and therefore a person can train an animal. Similarly, an emotion really has no intelligence or free will, so a person can use his own intellect to train his emotions.

Rather than feeling low, a person must understand what about him is great, he must be sure of it, because he actually knows it – the sadness has simply caused him to forget. During times of sadness, it is unwise to attempt to bring oneself joy by engaging in something that gives either emotional or physical joy, for the source of the issue is not emotional or physical, but mental. If a person tries to make himself happier by using one of these things, i.e., either causing oneself to laugh or to eat something that tastes good, once the temporary joy has ended, the sadness will return. Alcohol or other drugs are probably the worst thing to engage when sad, for they affect both the physical and the emotional, and the mental as well.

Rather, when a person is sad, it is better for him to engage in something that gives him true and genuine joy, something that he really actually likes, something that stirs something inside of him and attaches him to his light. It doesn’t even have to be something so extreme, something that moves him to tears or causes him to make a self-affirming decision to change his lifestyle, for there might not be anything particularly wrong with his lifestyle. That’s the nature of sadness, it’s an illusion. Likewise, one should also not expect a quick fix, the wave of sadness might not end within a few moments or within the hour, and it is useless to try to get one’s mind off of it. The best thing to do is to reflect on the source of the sadness, and one will often find that it is a misplaced glitch, perhaps a reaction to a genuine fear that a person has, but not reflective of an empirical reality in the person’s life. Therefore, a rich person (and not just in the monetary sense) can be sad when he has riches under his nose. If he right away focuses on his riches, he will see what he has and the feeling of lack will slowly vanish. If it helps him, he can put himself through a mental process of understanding just what it is that he wants to understand about himself – understanding one self is a path to joy. It is also a path to improvement, because it allows a person to isolate, locate, and identity those things about him which are negative, and then he can go about weakening those things, or isolating the positive things contained within them and reversing or eliminating the rest. This improvement also leads to further joy, rectification, and refinement.

Another important thing in staying away from sadness and reaching and maintaining joy is to stay away from things with adverse and negative intellectual, emotional, and spiritual content. Often things like this, which he places in himself through his eyes or ears or any sense really (discussed in detail in Orchot Tzadikim, The Ways of the Righteous, a book about developing positive character traits with an anonymous author), unknowingly (or even knowingly) affect his emotional state and make-up, and blur his reality, in effect, placing a barrier between him and himself. Eventually he will have to break down that self-imposed barrier if he is to find out what is wrong with him (and to see what is right with him). It would be better if he just didn’t place the barrier there in the first place, and would allow for a more constant stream of joy. This is how a person is able to know himself, others, and God, and to appreciate himself, others, and God.

To the converse, not only should he stay away from negative effects, he should pursue positive effects. The difference is like walking in the wrong direction towards a bad destination, staying in place and neither walking towards the bad destination nor the good one, or walking towards the good destination. Assuming that he arrives there, which he most likely will if he continues to walk there, he will see and experience things that affect him positively and make his improvement just that much easier.

He will also meet people who are attempting to find the same place, and being around them and befriending them will also serve as a great aid, for as it says in the morning prayer known as "Hagomel Chasadim Tovim" (The One Who Grants Acts of Righteousness), "May it be Your Will before You, Hashem, our God and the God of our forefathers, that You accustom us in Your Torah, and cause us to stick to Your mitzvot, and do not bring us near to sin, and not near to poverty, and not near to test (or temptation), and not near to shame, and may the yetzer harah not control us, and may You distance us from a bad person, and from a bad friend, and cause us to stick to the yetzer hatov (the good inclination), and to good deeds…”

Comment below.


Zach said...

If God loves Israel, why do bad things keep happening there?

Yehudi said...

I loved your post...very insightful! And a response to one word: sin. L'Shalom!

OrthodoxJew said...

Many good things happen here (in Israel_ as well, so perhaps the question is, "why do bad things happen anywhere?" Trying to find out the answer to that question might shed light on why bad things happen here as well.