Ohel Yaacob Congregation
Ohel Yaacob Congregation
Deal, New Jersey
Parasha Insight - from Rabbi Eli J Mansour
Parashat Vayikra: Overcoming Depression
Parashat Vayikra presents the laws concerning Korbanot, sacrifices. Perek 1, Pasuk 2 says “Adam Ki Yakrib Mikem Korban.” Rashi writes in his commentary to the second verse of this Parasha that a person who offers a sacrifice must do so in the same manner in which Adam offered a sacrifice. Just as Adam did not bring stolen property as a sacrifice – after all, the entire earth belonged to him – so must a person ensure not to bring any stolen items as a sacrifice. This Halacha, of course, is eminently understandable: if a person offers a sacrifice in an effort to earn atonement and draw closer to God, he certainly cannot hope to achieve this goal by committing a crime.
Nevertheless, the Talmud speaks of a case where – at least after the fact – a stolen Korban is accepted. The Gemara in Masechet Gittin (55a) rules that if a person brings a sacrifice to the Temple, and after the Kohen offers the sacrifice and partakes of its meat it is discovered that the animal had been stolen, this information should not be disclosed to the Kohen. This is one of the rare instances where we employ the rule of "Hefker Beit Din Hefker," which allows the Sages to reassign property. The animal is declared to have been under the legal ownership of the person who brought the sacrifice, so that he will not be required to bring another offering. The reason, the Gemara explains, is so that the Kohen will not feel distressed upon hearing that he tended to and partook of an invalid Korban. Knowing this information could easily cause the Kohen depression and discourage him from bringing Korbanot in the future. The Sages therefore enacted this extraordinary provision to spare the Kohen these feelings of distress and uneasiness.
This remarkable Halacha is a powerful expression of the severity with which the Rabbis look upon depression and melancholy. The Kohanim were known for their "Zerizut," their zeal and alacrity in performing their duties in the Bet Ha'mikdash. Yet, one mishap could cause a Kohen to lose his enthusiasm for the job, and, ultimately, to refuse to offer any further sacrifices. This is one of the most effective weapons in the arsenal of the Yetzer Ha'ra (evil inclination). While generally the Yetzer Ha'ra works very patiently, attempting to lure a person to sin one step at a time, sometimes over the course of many years, a feeling of depression allows the Yetzer Ha'ra to succeed in an instant. An unhappy person does not think rationally, and he is therefore vulnerable to even the most illogical arguments of his evil inclination. The Torah tells in the Book of Vayikra (chapter 24) of a man who publicly blasphemed God. As Rashi explains, he had just lost a court case and was ordered to remove his tent from the area where he had wanted to reside in the camp of Benei Yisrael. He felt frustrated and distressed, and when a person experiences such feelings, there are no limits on how low he can fall.
Furthermore, when a person is down on himself the Yetzer Ha'ra can convince him not to bother trying to achieve. Once a person has stumbled and sinned, he begins to think that he has no hope for improvement, he can never succeed, and in any event, God will never accept his repentance after what he has done. These are the dangers of depression and gloom.
What is the solution to avoid these dangers? After all, we all find ourselves feeling depressed every so often; everybody arises on the "wrong side of the bed" from time to time, and occasionally confronts distressing situations. How can a person avoid the spiritual risks of depression on these occasions?
Firstly, a person who feels unhappy should find some activity that he finds enjoyable and relaxing. My Rabbis in Yeshiva would tell students who experienced depression to buy an ice cream. Whether it's going for a walk, drive or jog, or playing sports, a person feeling down should be encouraged to engage in some (permissible, of course) activity to help boost his spirits.
Additionally, we must all learn from the Tzadikim never to lose composure during difficult situations. Many stories are told of Rabbis who remained calm and controlled even under life-threatening circumstances. A person who becomes flustered under stress is prone to make wrong and fateful decisions. Retaining composure helps a person make careful, calculated decisions how to best handle the difficult situation.
Finally, and most importantly, Torah study is the most effective antidote to depression. Just as a person feels uncomfortable when his body is not properly fed, so does one experience discomfort when the soul, the most important component of the human being, does receive proper nourishment. When the soul is hungry, when a person does not feel spiritually accomplished, he becomes depressed. We refer to Torah schools as "Yeshiva" because learning Torah serves to be "Meyashev" – to settle a person's mind and bring him a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction. The best advice for a person who seeks to avoid the spiritual pitfalls of melancholy is for him to allocate time each day for Torah learning, whereby he provides the nourishment his soul needs to feel happy, secure and content.
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