Joy: The Pathway to a Meaningful Life

By Ari Franklin, Brooklyn, NY
Essays 2017

MyLife Essay Contest 2017


Most of Chassidic thought is dedicated to the spiritual aspects of Judaism, from praying to learning. However, a large faction of Chassidic thought deals with general human problems, and shows a path that will helps eradicate negative traits. One problem that can stop a person from truly being able to fulfill his goal in life is depression. Depression can come in many forms, but the main form of depression that Chassidus deals with is a form of melancholic depression. According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), melancholic depression is a form of major depressive disorder (MDD). MDD is a significant mental health condition characterized by persistent and intense feelings of sadness and hopelessness. Chassidus endeavors to address 1 depression through altering a person’s outlook and thought process, or cognitive behavioral therapy. According to the teachings of the Alter Rebbe, who explains this sadness in chapter 26 Tanya, and in many letters and talks of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

The Alter Rebbe explains in Tanya that man’s service of G-d can be compared to the attitude between two people in a physical altercation. In a fight, if one opponent is lazy and sluggish, he will lose the fight. Even if he is stronger than the other man, nevertheless, he will still lose. As is explained in Chassidus multiple times, that a person has two souls, an animalistic soul, and a G-dly soul. These two souls are like two kings within a city. The person is always fighting for control of his thoughts, speech, and action, whether they should be for G-d, or heaven forbid, the opposite. Therefore, if one is depressed, sad, or lazy, then he will surely lose 2the internal struggle. There may be many reasons why a person is feeling down. It may be due to the fact that his business isn’t being successful, or maybe because of health reasons. Whatever the cause is, the Alter Rebbe explains that in order to master these bad feelings, get rid of them, and even prevent them from entering your thoughts originally, is to follow the well-known axiom found in the Mishnah in Brachos. “A person is obligated to bless upon the bad just as he blesses upon the good. As it says, “And you shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart and all your soul and with all that you have.” The Alter Rebbe explains that a person must accept his misfortune with joy as one would with something good. The reason the Alter Rebbe explains, is that every single detail is dictated by divine providence, and comes from above and is always good, but sometimes the good is concealed from us. In addition to having this mindset, the 3 Lubavitcher Rebbe writes in a letter that the solution to most problems is having an assurance or confidence in G-d, and is better known as bitachon. Bitachon means acknowledging the truth and fact that Hashem watches over, supervises, and sends personal providence to every single creation; and that Hashem is the ultimate good. Therefore, there is no possible place for sadness or depression, and it can only be aroused when one forgets about the fundamentals of emuna and faith. Furthermore, everything is in the hands of G-d, except for fear of heaven. Accordingly, one must continuously find ways of improving his faith and bitachon. 4

Moreover, it is not enough to just not have depression, but we also must be joyful and happy. As it says in the possuk, “To serve Hashem with Joy.” We also see from chapter 26 in Tanya that it is not enough to cope with the misfortune, but one also must rejoice from it. Therefore, we see being happy is a necessity, and in Chassidus being happy is one of the fundamentals. In addition, the Lubavitcher Rebbe shares a story about the history of serving Hashem with joy, and it is even an avoda for all rebbeim. The Rebbe writes:

“When the Tzemach Tzedek was in Petersburg attending a conference of rabbonim, nearby there was a small fortified camp of soldiers that had a few Jewish regiments. After the conference the soldiers asked the Tzemach Tzedek to come speak to them, because they weren’t allowed to visit him. When the Tzemach Tzedek came the soldiers said, ‘We toiled to shine and clean our buttons for you. Now you toil and polish our souls.’ The Tzemach then said a maamar, and afterwards told them, ‘Just as one shines buttons with sand and water, so to the soul must be polished with sand and water. The sand is the tehillim, and the water are the tears.’ One of the soldiers said to the Tzemach Tzedek, that when we go out to conquer a city we do it with a thrilling soldiers’ march. The Tzemach Tzedek agreed, and then said that in order to conquer the evil
inclination, it needs to be with joy. From then on the avoda by all the Rebbeim was to do everything with joy.”

From this we see that in order to conquer the evil inclination we must serve Hashem with joy. Furthermore, the Rebbe writes to another person, that the evil inclination uses sadness as a weapon in order to conquer the person and take control. Consequently, a person should use joy 6 to conquer and subdue his evil spirit, which will then allow him to focus on his davening, or learning without any of the sadness that stems from the evil inclination. In addition, the Lubavitcher Rebbe also writes that depression may come because people have an abundance of free time. Evidently, the Rebbe is telling us that using our time to the fullest may prevent sadness and hopelessness. Another reason for one’s depression may be because he feels guilty from his many sins. However, to feel this guilt and sadness in middle of his workday, and especially during davening is definitely the wrong time for this sadness. Although when the person is feeling these thoughts he must make sure he sets up the correct times for introspection and to use this sadness as an aid.

Moreover, in order to live a happy and meaningful life, and fulfill the world’s main mission: of creating a dwelling place for Hashem down in this world, a person must do so with joy. Although, sometimes there may be very little of what to be happy about, nevertheless, in order to bring about the immediate geula and Moshiach a person must serve Hashem with joy. One must realize that the world was created by Hashem, and because these problems come from Hashem he automatically has the ability to be truly joyful. Additionally, the Rebbe said in a talk, that only joy can break through all boundaries and limitations. Thus, the only achievable way to break through the boundaries and bring Moshiach is only through joy. On the personal level as well, the surest way to overcome all of his obstacles is to try to be in a constant state of happiness, and only be sad when necessary. Being happy and joyful is of immense importance, because not only would joy help the person with all of his problems, but also take part in fulfilling the ultimate purpose of the world and bring Moshiach. 7

Whenever I feel that I am not living up to my potential as a Chosid, or that my mind wandered during davening, I struggle to eradicate this sadness from my mind. It is the teaching of the Tanya and the Rebbe that helps me harness these thoughts to improve myself and my midos. I can now recognize that these thoughts arise in order to prevent me from accomplishing my goals and Avoda, and that they should immediately be discarded. Without Chassidus, my entire outlook would be vastly different, and I wouldn’t recognize the power of the evil inclination to disrupt my journey to be the best possible version of myself.

Depression has the unique power to hinder the service of G-d, and allow the evil inclination to take control by using sadness as a weapon. Although sadness isn’t completely out of place, nevertheless in middle of doing something of importance, such as work, or of spiritual importance such as davening or learning, then depression is definitely out of place and must be dispelled from the mind immediately. By eradicating this sadness a person can serve Hashem with joy, and having joy is not only necessary, but a necessity to overcome his obstacles and bring Moshiach.


Sources and Footnotes
[1] Michael. Kerr, Medically Reviewed by Timothy J. Legg, Ph.D., PMHNP-BC. “Melancholic Depression.” Healthline. N.p., Mar.-Apr. 2016. Web. 24 Feb. 2017. <>
[2] Shneur. Zalman, “Chapter 9.” Likutei Amarim: (Tanya). Brooklyn: “Kehot” Publication Society, 1962. 26-28. Print.
[3] Mindel, Nissan, and Schneur Zalman of Liadi. “IV. THE FULFILLMENT.” The Philosophy of Chabad: Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi. Vol. 2. Brooklyn: Kehot, 1985. 139-48. Print.
[4] Menachem Mendel. Schneerson, “Belief In G-d.” Sefer Shaarei Emunah. Comp. Yosef Yitzchak Habelin. Vol. 1. Brooklyn, NY: “Kehot” Publication Society, 1991. 132-34. Print.
[5] Menachem Mendel. Schneerson, “Chapter Five: Day-To-Day Life.” Trans. Shmuli Zalmanov. The Rebbe’s Children. First Edition ed. Vol. 1. N.p.: Createspace Independent, 2015. 278-91. Print.
[6] Menachem Mendel. Schneerson, “Depression Stems from the Yetzer Horah; Teshuva Is Always Effective.” Letters from the Rebbe: Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson. Vol. 1. New York: Otsar Sifrei Lubavitch, 1998. 97-98. Print.
[7] Menachem Mendel. Schneerson, “Chapter Five: Day-To-Day Life.” Trans. Shmuli Zalmanov. The Rebbe’s Children. First Edition ed. Vol. 1. N.p.: Createspace Independent, 2015. 278-91. Print.