The Damage of Depression
Rabbi Y. OliverOne of the distinguishing qualities of the path of Chassidus is the focus on constant joy, and in Tanya (ch. 26), the Alter Rebbe explains that only at auspicious times designated for a personal spiritual reckoning may one bring oneself to bitterness over one’s sins. The rest of the time, however, one must serve Hashem with joy, and completely disregard any sadness that comes from thoughts of one’s sins (see this earlier post).
In the letter below, the Previous Rebbe expands upon this concept, warning a chossid not to engage in any inappropriate sadness:
I have heard that you are worried and sad, and consequently you are neglecting your health and proper behavior in your eating, drinking, and sleeping. This is obviously disturbing your work to disseminate Torah and strengthen those who engage in Avodah [character refinement] and study Torah.
All those who study the teachings of Chassidus know that worry and depression, even when they stem from concern over one’s spiritual level, are wicked traits. Not only should one distance oneself from them, but one should uproot them at the root, for they open the way for all kinds of evil.
Our sages have said: “Such is the craft of the evil inclination” (Shabbos 105b). The bestial soul [another term for the evil inclination] is a seasoned craftsman, and his craft is to come to each person with a different tactic. To the small, the average, and the great—each one he approaches on that person’s level.
Sometimes the bestial soul comes wrapped in a Tallis not his own—with the appearance of the good inclination. He reminds the person of his personal faults, and rebukes and torments him. He advises the person to study works of mussar and threatens him, and his entire goal is to degrade the person and distract him from the tasks that he needs to do.
This is the entire intention of the evil inclination—to preoccupy and distract the person from engaging in good things. When he sees that he can only accomplish this through a method that apparently stems from fear of Heaven, he will slip on this garment in order to perpetrate his wicked scheme. This is why he is called a craftsman, for his enticements are committed in such a way that when he reprimands and torments the person for something not good, or bad, it is impossible to recognize his true face—that in reality this is the evil inclination.
Therefore our holy fathers, the Rebbeim, decreed that worry and depression, even from one’s spiritual state, is a wicked character trait, and they forbade it completely and utterly. They sentenced it to the four death penalties, that it be banished from the domain of chassidim, and uprooted until no minute trace remains, for even that brings great damage. ...