Friday, October 26, 2007


Every so often I have nightmares that are simply flashbacks of situations I have been in before. I dreamt of such a situation last night; it involved myself, my friend, my teacher and the classroom. This is something that really happened.

My teacher was teaching us Navi and had somehow taken a pasuk that suggested that God desires us to be happy and had decided to shoehorn her own interpretation into the words. She stated that Jews are "not allowed" to become depressed. She stated that depression wasn't so much an illness as an attitude. She then continued on to say that Jews should try not to see doctors (she seemed not to put much stock in psychologists and the like.) Of course this turned into a shouting match between myself and a few other students as we tried to explain how wrong all of this was. Some of you may remember...

One of the students in the class had a father who is a neurologist. He knows full well that depression can be an illness caused by imbalances in certain chemicals of the brain, and apparently he told this over to the teacher…rather forcefully, I believe. The teacher came back to class the next day, contrite, and attempted to explain herself away, stating- “Of course depression can be an illness; what I meant was that if you stub your toe, you shouldn’t be sad and depressed about something like that, you shouldn’t allow it to ruin your day, etc.” But that was obviously not what she had meant when she first explained it.

I woke up this morning and thought about the people I know who are truly depressed and then went on to think of what this woman had said. And I was angry, even though it was a dream and happened years ago. But I wonder how prevalent this attitude is in the Orthodox world...this thought that if people could simply will themselves to be better, they would be better. It is so cruel to other people to believe that- to make an illness someone's fault. And if you need Jewish sources for illness and depression, surely it is easy to bring up Saul's melancholia which I believe the Rambam mentions...

If you truly loved your people, how could you do this? How could you simply look away and claim that they ought to somehow become better in and of themselves, that if they only wanted to be better they would be? Aren't there homosexuals who would like to be straight- and are they? What if I suddenly wanted to grow wings and fly- could I? There are some times where wanting isn't enough! I do not say that every case is the same- of course it cannot be. But how could someone assert that depression is an attitude, not an illness; how could someone suggest that God forbids depression and that in addition to everything else, this is a sin?

I have heard the oft-quoted phrase "God doesn't give you what you cannot handle." What people rarely realize is that this is a Christian philosophy, not a Jewish one!

"No trial has come to you but what is human. God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength; but with the trial he will also provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it. "

~Corinthians 10: 13

I wonder if there is a Jewish source for the phrase. I'd rather there weren't...I've heard the words Gam zu l'tova or Gam zeh y'avor but that is hardly the attitude or philosophy for every moment of one's life- there are some things that should not be accepted and that should not be borne, where one must cry out against them and fight with God rather than accept them.

"Judaism, in contradistinction to mystical quietism, which recommended toleration of pain, wants man to cry out aloud against any kind of pain, to react indignantly to all kinds of injustice or unfairness. For Judaism held that the individual who displays indifference to pain and suffering, who meekly reconciles himself to the ugly, disproportionate and unjust in life, is not capable of appreciating beauty and goodness. Whoever permits his legitimate needs to go unsatisfied will never be sympathetic to the crying needs of others. A human morality based on love and friendship, on sharing in the travail of others, cannot be practiced if the person's own need-awareness is dull and he does not know what suffering is. Hence Judaism rejected models of existence which deny human need, such as the angelic or the monastic. For Judaism, need-awareness constitutes part of the definition of human existence. Need-awareness turns into a passional experience, into a suffering awareness. Dolorem ferre ergo sum- I suffer, therefore I am.- to paraphrase Descartes' cogito ergo sum. While the Cartesian cogito would also apply to an angel or even to the devil, our inference is limited to man: neither angel nor devil know suffering.

Therefore, prayer in Judaism, unlike the prayer of classical mysticism, is bound up with the human needs, wants, drives and urges, which make man suffer. Prayer is the doctrine of human needs. Prayer tells the individual , as well as the community, what his, or its, genuine needs are, what he should, or should not, petition God about........Prayer and tzara are inseperably linked. Who prays? Only the sufferer prays. If man does not find himself in narrow straits, if he is not troubled by anything, if he knows not what tzara is, then he need not pray. To a happy man, to contented man, the secret of prayer was not revealed. God needs neither thanks nor hymns. He wants to hear the outcry of man, confronted with a ruthless reality. He expects prayer to rise from a suffering world cognizant of its genuine needs. In short, through prayer man finds himself. Prayer enlightens man about his needs. It tells man the story of his hidden hopes and expectations. It teaches him how to behold the vision and how to strive in order to realize this vision, when to be satisfied with what one possesses, when to reach out for more. In a word, man finds his need-awareness, himself, in prayer. Of course, the very instant he finds himself, he becomes a redeemed being."

-Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik

To live in a world of countless shades of grey, where there is no motive or desire or pleasure to be found in all the beauty that is granted us, to feel nothing and to have no energy to engage in any kind of meaningful activity; surely this is not what God wanted for you, for me or for anyone! And to claim it does not exist or make it someone else's fault is to completely fail in terms of your duty as another person, another person who loves his fellow Jew- instead we must acknowledge the presence of illness and fight it and offer to help in whatever way we can, in whichever way is possible. There are wonderful people in our world and it is our job to help, love and support them. We cannot do that if we pretend them away, hide them in dark corners to hide the fact that we ourselves are ashamed or close our minds so as not to understand.

Oh, I am guilty of all this as well so do not think I absolve myself of blame- but I am at least aware of the times I have not wanted to hear and know that I have to try harder. Because it is people who matter, above all other things...sometimes even above God.


haKiruv said...

I have heard the oft-quoted phrase "God doesn't give you what you cannot handle." What people rarely realize is that this is a Christian philosophy, not a Jewish one!

I completely agree. Obviously there are struggles that people can't overcome. Humans are complex and we all have our relative internal struggles. It's something that one can't "snap out" of.

Watch this funny video

e-kvetcher said...

>But I wonder how prevalent this attitude is in the Orthodox world...this thought that if people could simply will themselves to be better, they would be better.

What specifically about Orthodox Judaism would lead to this attitude?

Elster said...

Well it could be worse, your people could be Scientologists

Paul said...

"if people could simply will themselves to be better, they would be better."

This is a spiritual truth. No treatment in the world can help without the human will and love. The person's inner love and also the love of people around them. This applies to the cancer patient, the drug addict, the alcoholic, and also the person who is depressed. People do have a moral obligation to be positive in their actions and their thinking. Yes, depression is an "illness" but depression is also an "attitude", your teacher was correct. It is very easy, once an other person has been labelled with an "illness", to free one's self of the obligation to love those who are vulnerable. And by doing so, we hurt the one's who need our love and make their burden more difficult to bear.
I wonder if you have ever taken the time to read the Book on Happiness. Surely, your questions would have been answered. That is why I reached out to you, because I felt that your soul was provoking your mind to find important answers about life.

I reach out to people all time. I think it is the right thing to do.
I have reached out to you time and again. I really do not know why I am doing this. I really should not. At times I really regret it, I despair, I wish I never allowed myself to read your blog or to find any commonality in it. Often I feel things only later to read them on your blog. Last night, at the same time, I felt exactly like you did, I welt worse the night before, I could not sleep all night.

I am not some stalker and I am not some creep. If you are looking for those, surely you will find them out in the open on your blog, cleaverly deceiving you. I hope you will remember that have always been brutally HONEST with you. Not to hurt you but because I see things that trouble me which I don't think you are yet aware of.
It is out of love and caring that I even bother to waste my time with you an intelligent person who is emotionally still behaving like a child.

I am also deeply troubled by the fact I have failed to impact a human soul in a positive way. You don't realize how much it hurts me when my own Jewish people pass me by, toss me aside, or simply ignore me. You don't realize how shy, tender, and vulnerable I am.
I suffer from a brittle diabetes, hypothyroidism, and now because of your attitude towards me I also have a Major Depressive Disorder. Most importantly I was able to discover that I also have most of the Anxiety Disorders, and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (This means that my mind has the tendacy to get stuck in certain thought patterns, especially the negative aspects of my life).
OCD does not mean that I am obsessed about you. I have a strong will it is always my desire to have positive interactions with all people in my life. I appoligize to you for the fact that I got stuck in the feelings of failure of not having been able to have positve dealings with you.
If you feared that I am obsessed with you, rest assured that I can't be because I do not know you at all. The good news is that: DEPRESSION-ANXIETY DISORDERS-OBESSIVE COMPULSIVE DISORDER are ONE and the SAME and treated by the same medications (SSRI). I have been taking medications now for two months with positive results. If you walked down the street and saw me you would not think anything abnormal about me.

I live in the country and I have been somewhat isolated from people for the past five years.

I am Jewish
I am an introvert.
I live with my parents.
I have had little success in the local job market, having to reinvent myself and work mostly part time jobs.
I am now unempolyed.
I am physically in bad shape, I have suffered from chronic fatigue.
I don't smoke, don't drink, don't do drugs, and I never have, I have will.
I have been wrongly labelled with Learning Disabilities which caused me to suffer the brutality of Special Ed in elementary school.
I am a High School drop out.
I am a College drop out.
I am very talented and intelligent but I have great difficulty finding niche for what I do have.
I am still a VIRGIN.
I have never kissed or touched a woman in an intimate way.
Jewish people treat me like I am less than Jewish.
Christians treat me like I am a special and worthy person.

Chana, I got your message loud and clear every time. I believe in outreach. The alcoholic and the homeless person also refuse help, does this mean we should just ignore them? I am an optimist, I always believe in the most positive outcome. My presistence is has to do will my will towards positive outcomes. You ignored me and I got the message the first time. It is really a pain in the ass for me to plan a trip into the city but I felt such good will towards you that I felt I had to try.

"Anonymous said... Chana, you work hard. You put in all your effort. You need a break from the industrial cafeteria food.
You deserve a real meal. Food with flavor and meaning...Please do not dishonor my good will. Please come for dinner. It would really make me happy if you came, please bring two friends also.

Last chance for today...

Please...let me know???October 14, 2007 11:54 AM

concerned adult said... But anonyomous, you wrote yesterday that "I would have to say that you are NOT the kind of girl I can bring home to Mama".

Chana's not interested in meeting you. She asked you not to comment on her blog. If you persist, a way will be found to inform your mother/relatives of this infatuation of yours.

Please leave Chana and this site alone, as you stated you would.

Consider this your only warning.

I would like to answer you Mr. Concerned adult:
I don't who a concerned adult is but I would like to talk to him man to man about this. Chana is an adult. If you are concerned, then you should be more concerned about Chana's globally public activities on a public forum. Concerned adult has levelled a vailed threat against me. Please go ahead and inform my mother/relatives because I already have. In fact I would take it one step further, I think you should put your concerns on the front page of every Jewish newspaper and National newspaper. I think this will give me the opportunity to rebut in public the reckless behavior of Jewish teens online and the lack of proper parental supervision. I also think the Jewish world needs an eye opener into the world of Jewish young adults and what they are really learning in colleges.

"Infatuation" - I am deeply offended by this. First I doubt any Jewish couples would ever have been married if not for ""...I don't feel anything physical for her because I do not know her. The medication I take for Depression causes ED, I am even more harmless now then I have ever been entire harmless VIRGIN live. This was spoken from truly spiritually dead person who wants to transform the good will of a kind individual into something that is not existing in order to cover up some kind of shame. (Perhaps his inability to control Chana's reckless behavior.)

In was only with heart and soul that I made the offer. It was Rachmanut. If you really want to know, I have not invited any women for dinner in last 10 years. In fact I have not been on a date in two years. (I had two blind very short dates in Israel because my family was trying to set me up.) Before that I had not gone on a date in 7 years.

Your admonition and threat was taken as Jew stepping on the love and compassion of another Jew who has had a difficult life and who has sunked further into the depths as the result of people like you and Chana.

It was Chana who asked me to contact her only to later ignore me and drop me like a hot potato. That was no show of respect. It was superficial and cold. I like respect don't you?

All people have souls. Each soul must be respected. You are correct about English class but you are wrong to publicize it. You should have found guts and compassion to speak with that girl privately who was having difficulty and helped her out. But you took the easy way out for your pride and sowed resentment in her.

alissa said...

hi chana,

just wanted to thank you for your blog. i enjoy reading it very much - you are a great writer and also clearly a very thoughtful person.

Daniel said...


I hear your pain so loudly. I really feel your need for human love. Honestly, I do. I know the agony of feeling that I have never made a positive impact on anyone. I know the pain of being ignored. I’m in a similar situation as you. I have been suffering from severe depression for nearly five years. I have social anxiety, as well as certain OCD-symptoms. I don’t live in the country, but over the last five years, I have lost virtually all of my friends, and have not had much success making new ones. I too am Jewish, an introvert, live with my parents, am unemployed, don't smoke, don't drink, don't do drugs (and never have) . I too have never even kissed or touched a woman in an intimate way; I have never even been on a date. I have not been treated like I am less than Jewish, but at times I have felt looked-down on for not having the ‘appropriate’ background or outlook.

I can hear your pain so clearly.

Sometimes people seem to like us, and then it turns out they were just being polite, or they want to be friends, but nothing more. Sometimes we feel like we’ve been led on, toyed with, for whatever reason. This is unfair to us. But there isn’t anything we can do about it. I know. It has happened to me before.

I know what it is like to be in love with someone who doesn’t want anything to do with you. It has happened to me not once, but several times. It is the most painful thing in the world. I think it is worse than being bereaved. When someone dies, you mourn what you lost. When you are in love with someone who doesn’t care about you, you have to mourn what you never had, what you can never have.

But you have to realise that you can never have it, or you will never be able to move on. It is unbearably hard, but if someone does not want anything to do with you, you have to accept that. There is no alternative. You can’t make anyone love you. I don’t doubt that you are a person with so much to offer the world, so much love to give people, it hurts me so much to see that no one has let you give that love. But you can’t force that love on anyone. If you try to do that, it stops being love.

Sometimes the truest expression of love is leaving someone alone. Think about it: if you really love someone, if you really, really care about someone, you would do anything for her, wouldn’t you? Anything she wanted, no matter how difficult? Well, sometimes we have to do the hardest thing in the world for someone we really care about, and that is to leave them alone, because that’s the only way we can love them.

I know it’s hard. I’ve had to do it several times. It never gets easier. Like I said, it's like being bereaved, but worse. But sometimes it’s the only way to show your love for someone, and the only way to move on with your life so that you can find someone else, someone who really is willing to receive your love and to love you back in return, with all the love you deserve.

Daniel said...


As e-kvetcher said, I don't think this attitude to depression (that it's a state of mind/sin, not an illness) is particularly Jewish. I think it's more likely due to general ignorance/fear of mental illness.

That said, the communal nature of Judaism and the emphasis on 'serving God in happiness' in so much of contemporary Judaism, automatically distances people with depression and social anxieties (of various kinds) from much of Jewish life, even if no one thinks they are 'sinning.'

I think there is a Jewish idea about people not getting a test they can't withstand, but I have no idea where it originates. Still, there are different ways of withstanding a test, and even if that quote does originate in the Talmud, I don't think it means that people with mental (or indeed physical) illness can or should 'will' themselves better. Sometimes you withstand a test by just doing what you can, even if you never get anywhere, and even if other people think you're not trying at all.

eem said...

I think that when this idea is attributed to Judaism, it comes from the idea that you are only held accountable for something that you can handle. If someone is put in a situation where the only response that is possible for them would look to someone else like they aren't "handling it", they aren't considered responsible for it by G-d.

eem said...

Oh, and if I remember correctly- the idea is brought in the ramban on nisayon, in p. lech lecha or vayeira.

eem said...

Oh, and if I remember correctly- the idea is brought in the ramban on nisayon, in p. lech lecha or vayeira.

Paul said...

Thank you brother Daniel for being courageous and speaking out about yourself. We have everything in common and I appreciate the fact that someone understands. Truly, your words are sincere, they warm my heart and they bring me comfort.
If you were a woman I probably would want to marry you, but I never find such women.
I understand your point about Chana but I think even you there are misinterpreting it. I NEVER wanted to bother Chana nor have it go this far. Part of this negative experience with her is what lead me to seek help because I knew I was letting something small get to me too much. But what was bothering me was symptomatic of many experience I have with Jewish people, in particular Ashkenazim because they place more importance on the intellect than on the heart and soul. Chana understands much, and many of her words inspire me to be involve, she herself describes herself as a seductoress(or of than nature). I think she needs to understand that she also bears some responsibility for that.
I wanted Chana to understand that people also feel things that she does not put into words. Things that are not spoken also bear weight just as do words that are spoken. "Have a nice day" sounds like nice words, but these words can have the opposite meaning when they are spoken in a different tone. Likewise to present oneself oneway in writing, then behave the opposite can be misleading and hurtful to those who are sensative.
I think that was my message all along. The truth is if Chana was more direct, honest, and bold with me it would probably have pushed me away because I am shy, timid, and I tend to be afraid of women who push themselves on me and do everything in my power to walk away. I don't like fear, especially when people are fearful of me, because I know it has nothing to do with me but rather such people feel vulnerable themselves. I don't knock down people who are weak. Rather I knock down people who pretend to be strong. I hope I am making more sense. As some who works on the computer alot, I am well aware of the type of people who are online.
Chana is very positive and also a little naive and reckless. I was trying to provoke so parental/adult awareness of her activities for her benefit. If I was a parent and as a former New Yorker, I would be concerned about this:
1. Most of the commentors on her blog are older MEN. Unless she wants to find and marry a much older man, she should only have contact with boys her age.

2. She writes about to many private details of her life.

3. I was raised to never talk about or criticize a family member in public and to always defend a family member no matter what. I know that when my sister was growing up my father always picked up the phone and asked who it was when someone called her. Imagine now a Jewish girl like Chana at age 16 is blogging with older Men.

4. Chana has at least to or three times on this blog given up her identity, that is her real name.

5. Anyone in the world can find out for free who Chana is, who her parents are and where she lives. If money pay is paid, social security numbers and drivers license numbers and photos can also be obtained.

I am not a bad person but there are really bad people out there and they will not be so kind to explain all this to anyone.

Maybe I would not even like Chana if I met her. What if she has a big wort on her forehead or her nose has a funny shape?

I am honest but I am also a good actor and if you all knew me you would understand that this is much ado about nothing. I got the message from Chana. But I wish she would have been more kind and discuss the matter with me like. She talked about Adam & Moses who were silent and did not lead Eve or the people.
How should I interpret that? Be silent or lead? When I lead, I get punished. Chana even said in Sept. that she wants to be put in her place, but yet when I do it, my reward is to be punished.

Chana, why is your blog public?
You have the option of making it private and for members only?

God bless you Chana and be well.

Thank you and God bless you Daniel.

That Frum Guy said...

In a similar vein to what a couple of others have said, I think that the teacher made that comment out of ignorance. It is normal to have ups and downs in life. So naturally, there have been times when your teacher has been sad and then picked him/herself back up again. He/She assumes that because she was able to overcome her sadness by "putting her mind to it" everyone else can. What he/she doesn't understand is that it is a neurological disease. However, I don't think that your teacher is not pretending it doesn't exist or looking away. I think he/she genuinely doesn't realize that depression is an illness, not just a passing phase. Or maybe I am giving your teacher too little/much credit.

Daniel said...


I understand that you are a good person, and that your approach to Chana is motivated by sincere concern for her well-being. However, I think it is a little misplaced.

I know Chana away from the internet, and she is somewhat older than you seem to think. I can understand why you would be worried about a young girl blogging in the way Chana does. However, she is very much an adult, and aware of the potential dangers of the internet, and she is very careful about what she says on-line. For example, there are some things she does not mention, and others where she changes certain details so that she can not be identified. She also does indeed have many friends her own age. Finally, her family do read her blog, and I am sure she is careful what she says about them.

I know it can be hard to see someone you care about making a mistake. However, sometimes people have to be left to make their own mistakes, because it is the only way to learn. Certainly looking over my own life, I see many things I wish I had not done, but I would never have understood why they were wrong without doing them.

God bless you too, Paul, and be well.

Ezzie said...

Your teacher is an idiot.

There are a lot of things where people can and should 'will' themselves, but to imply that depression doesn't exist is simply ignorance.

Rebecca said...

"I have heard the oft-quoted phrase "God doesn't give you what you cannot handle." What people rarely realize is that this is a Christian philosophy, not a Jewish one!"

See Ramban Bereishis 22:1--the concept is quite Jewish! (p.s. I'm sending you an e-mail which explains this further, i'YH).

haKiruv said...

To disprove an argument, it only takes one counter argument. For those who say that God doesn't give us more than we can handle, then how to we account for suicide, mass murders and such.

People get murdered for instance. Isn't that an example of too much for the murdered to handle?

eem said...

It depends what you mean by "handle".

Sihvyl said...

You attract a strange crowd Chana..

I just wanted to say that I really enjoyed Rabbi Joseph's quote. Thanks for posting. ^^

Moshe Y. Gluck said...

The JO published an article some time back that disagreed with the contention that Hashem only sends people tests they can handle.

Scraps said...

I agree with Ezzie, who took the words right out of my mouth--your teacher IS an idiot. You cannot simply will depression away, and to imply that people who can't are simply weak or lacking in emunah is a great way to destroy a person who is struggling.

Leora said...

Thank you for your post, Chana. As someone who has struggled with a mood disorder all my life, it is refreshing to hear discussion of attitudes toward mental illness in the Orthodox world. If one more person gives a speech about how-so-and-so had a great attitude all their lives, so you should be able to as well, does not know that a gene has been isolated for optimism as well. Yes, at times I have climbed out of a major depression without any drugs. But it was not because I put on a "positive attitude", other than the attitude of "I'm going to climb out of this one without any drugs". It was because I talked out all the things that were bothering me, something not encouraged in the Orthodox community. ("Hush! How can you say that?") Currently, I find the medication I am on lets me skip the hard climbing out of the depression work, and I can just be me. With only a little bit of side effects.

Therapists have taught me that depression is anger toward inward. If anyone would do a post on the famous Iggeret HaRamban, who called anger a serious character flaw, I'm interested.

blbdaily said...

It bothers me greatly that such know-nothing opinions are given credence in the frum world. A lot of people seem to believe that it's "frum" to talk in such an ignorant fashion about a serious experiential / existential / medical issue that many, many people deal with.

Perhaps it is "frum", but it's not truthful.