There is an obligation upon a Jew to be joyful at all times. With consistent effort, by learning Torah and internalizing the perspectives at the beginning of this book together with realizing that everything that G‑d does is for the good (accepting that this is not always obvious), a person can become joyful constantly. Furthermore, every descent is for the purpose of ascent, every challenge is for the purpose of growth. Every soul will descend into the perfect body for that soul’s tests and will live in a time, place and environment which perfectly maximizes its challenges. So if a person learns enough Chassidus, and the perspectives set out at the beginning of this book become part of his reality, he will come to understand that he has exactly what he needs to actualize what he can become. Although this is very deep and difficult for the beginner in Chassidus, by maintaining his focus on the above a person can learn to live in an ongoing state of joy.

Nevertheless, there are times when one suffers in pain. It is difficult for a man to make his way through the plethora of negative feelings that must be endured from time to time and remain joyful. With the benefit of learning Chassidus, it becomes possible to find a path of understanding and managing painful negative events and feelings. Without it, it is almost impossible. Depression is one good example. Secular wisdom has made inroads into biochemical depression with chemicals which, though offering some relief, do not always guarantee long term cure. The drugs have been found to make a difference to people with hormonal or biochemical imbalance caused depression, although a lot of experimentation is involved in finding the right medication for the right person. The relief through drugs although welcome, sometimes dampens simple pleasures. It seems clear however, that many people are afflicted with depression for reasons other than biochemical. For these people guidance is necessary to find the light to follow through the labyrinth of dark tunnels of misery.

Before continuing, a distinction needs to be made between two Hebrew terms. The English language is a wonderfully rich vocabulary for poetry, music and for describing beauty in physicality. For spiritual concepts however, English vocabulary is weak and thin. We need therefore to use two Hebrew words to try and get a feeling for two separate mental states of sadness.

There are two negative states when a person is in pain and unhappy. One is described as “merirus” normally translated as “bitterness”. The other is “atzvus” normally translated as “depression”. In Hebrew, these terms connote very different mental states.1 Before describing both of these states we begin with an example. Suppose a man’s restaurant is going badly. Slowly over a period of months less and less patrons turn up to eat. His profits thin to nothing, his overheads remain. The restaurant no longer pays. He cannot dismiss the chef and waiters because he cannot manage without them. He cannot keep them because he cannot pay them. As the restaurant declines our poor subject is overwhelmed to the point that he dreads turning up to see the empty tables and cannot sleep at night worrying about the future of the restaurant and the consequent financial future of his family.

Now there are two entirely different ways the new restaurateur can respond.

The first is with merirus (bitterness). Since he is idle anyway, he gets to work. He re-plans the restaurant, makes decisions to change the menu, the chef, the premises and tries to build new marketing programs. In this case his unhappiness has led to positive action. Obviously this action may or may not be successful but the action is positive and purposeful. This is the concept of merirus. Clearly the man is in pain over the failure of the restaurant but this pain, or bitterness, has prompted him to do something about it.

The second is with atzvus (depression). Given the same scenario, our poor subject cannot cope and becomes increasingly frozen into inactivity. Unlike the man who has merirus and who is prompted into positive action the man with atzvus simply does nothing. He is overwhelmed by the problem and this feeling of being overwhelmed rather than leading to action, leads to the reverse — inaction. In extreme cases the man goes to bed, pulls the covers over his head and simply gives up.

An ultimate test in Chassidus of the worth of a desire is to examine the outcome. If the outcome is an action for good, then the process was good. If the outcome is a lack of good, a lack of something positive, then the process was bad. Interestingly, the result of atzvus (depression) is the exact opposite to the perspectives set out in the beginning of this book; Divine Providence is ignored (Perspective I), positive outlook is ignored (Perspective II), there is no sense whatever of the spiritual (Perspective III), there is no long term view of anything (Perspective IV) and emotion totally dominates reason (Perspective V).

We learn further in Chassidus2 that where the outcome of a problem is the lack of positive action, one has clear evidence of the workings of the yetzer hora (evil inclination). Where the outcome of a conflict is action with a good result, we have evidence of triumph over the yetzer hora. Put another way, refusal to perform an act for good, no matter how persuasive the reason, is succumbing to the wiles of yetzer hora. With atzvus (depression) since the outcome is a lack of positive action it must, by definition be driven by and the result of the yetzer hora.

Merirus is fundamentally a state which evidences life. Even if the plans are unsuccessful the pain has been positive in the sense that it has led to action. On the other hand atzvus leading as it does to less and less activity is akin to death.

It is important to understand that merirus and atzvus are both separate and different reactions to the same set of facts. One person’s reaction is to do something prompted by those facts, (merirus) and the other persons reaction is to give in to them (atzvus). We will see presently that the difference is a function of the evil of yeshus explained in Chapter 5.

So how do we qualify this difference? To do so more clearly we need another example. Imagine a lawyer advising on a complex series of business deals. Although his advice is given in good faith, sadly the client looses a fortune and is ultimately made bankrupt. Clearly the lawyer will feel sad about this result if he is in any way human. But the critical question is, is his sadness sympathy for the plight of his client, or do his insides fall to the floor in fear of how the result is going to affect him? Both reactions are normal. One person’s reaction is focused on the client who has lost everything. The other person’s focus is entirely on himself and what will become of him. Will he be sued? How will his reputation suffer? How will his general standing in the community be affected? Again we have an example where the event is the same. A man is advised; he follows the advice to his detriment and looses money. The difference is the reaction of the advisor. Is his adviser’s focus on the victim or on himself?

The key to understanding non biochemical depression is available through Chassidus as we will see. The variable in both examples is the subject’s yeshus. Returning to the example of the failing restaurant, what is the difference underlying the two separate reactions? The answer lies in the focus of the individual. One man’s focus is on the restaurant and action, the other man’s focus is on himself. How will he face his wife, friends, creditors, bank manager, how will he be able to maintain his payments on his Porsche? It is this focus which drives him into a state of inactivity because the focus is on him; the focus is a function of his yeshus.

The stronger the merirus the stronger will be the prompting to do something positive. The stronger the yeshus however, the greater the inactivity. One of the things that secular wisdom has noticed is that an antidote to depression is activity. Of course people who are deeply depressed find it very difficult to embark upon or maintain much activity. Nevertheless, it has been noticed that if a person who is depressed can be engaged to perform some forms of activity this will help in the short term. This is because there is a shift of focus from the person himself to a task at hand. Of course, if that task is seen as meaningless the person will tire of it quickly and resume focus on himself. Patients in institutions given the job of basket weaving or knitting or doing some such activity will find short term benefits. Disappointingly the importance of the activity is soon weighed, and if not found meaningful the focus is returned to the person himself and depression is re-established. If however, a person can be encouraged to change the focus from himself to action which is valuable and demanding, the amazing thing is the depression will disappear at least for the time of action.

The problem of yeshus and depression is strengthened by the fact that often the condition is not a person’s fault. He may have been conditioned into thinking in terms of himself all of his life. As explained in Chapter 5, yeshus is not something to criticize but to pity and try to help. While everything goes well for a person his yeshus may be allowed to flower in the sunshine with everybody bowing and scraping to him; then his mental condition may be stable. The problem is that when something goes wrong, focus is internalized. How is he affected, why is he deserving of the disaster? As we have seen, the result is depression. The more a person thinks about himself in this way the more he feels sorry for himself and the deeper the depression becomes until it is almost impossible to shift the focus from the person to the action required.

An important issue is the ability to identify merirus (bitterness) and atzvus (depression) because sometimes they will be dressed in similar clothing. Although the product of merirus is action and the product of atzvus is inaction it is still nevertheless sometimes difficult to distinguish between the two. One useful test is to understand the matter of frequency of thought. When one is thinking healthily (merirus) one is able to schedule times for negative thought. In the example of the restaurant, the owner would be able to channel the thinking for fixing the restaurant into, say, business hours. The problem with atzvus, which is as we have explained a function of yeshus, is that the thought processes are not capable of being scheduled into time units for the very reason that the thoughts are about the person himself. This is by the definition of the yeshus absolutely the most important thing in the universe. Therefore, in extreme cases, one is overwhelmed by these thoughts all of the time. Such a person cannot daven, relate to his wife or children, or perform any happy tasks because he is constantly plagued by the intrusion of the misery thoughts which are themselves, him. The solution to depression therefore is the substitution of yeshus with bittul (see chapter 5). Interestingly, merirus is good for a marriage in that the partners can get together and build from it by the positive action we have seen. Depression is hard on a marriage because one person’s self focus excludes the partner from the problem, creating and widening separation.

We will see in the following chapters that since yeshus is emotion, it can and must be controlled by thought (Perspective V). The methodology is focus on the perspectives. A person is given divine orchestration to best achieve his potential (Perspective I). He needs to know his rocks are really diamonds (Perspective II); his view needs to be long term (Perspective III), spiritual as well as physical (Perspective IV) and his brain must rule his emotion (Perspective V). With honest understanding of the role of yeshus, inroads into depression can be made. As we will see a person can control thoughts and therefore his negative thoughts. This way he can move the focus from himself to action thus solving the problem of depression and reopening the doorway to happiness and joy.