Thursday, March 06, 2008

Depression and Action

Often, when confronted by defeat or failure, it is human nature to feel that our activity is futile. All that we work for can be destroyed in a moment, and everything that we care about is for nothing. Sometimes, people can feel this way when empathizing with others who are going through troubles. The feeling of helplessness can transfer to the empathizer, and create depression.

Of course, depression is the greatest enemy of useful activity. The feeling of futility can stop people from accomplishing and succeeding at important activities. After the Holocaust, for example, there were survivors who felt that it was pointless to rebuild their families, after witnessing how they were wiped out in a flash. How can a person save himself from drowning in the emotional turmoil of defeat and failure?

When Betzalel and his workers finished building the mishkan, they did not turn it over to the Jewish nation standing. The boards were there, the curtains, as well, and yet, nothing was put up. That was left to Moshe. Each of the seven days of inauguration, Moshe assembled and broke down the mishkan. No one was to help him, and Rashi quotes a midrash stating that, since the work was far too much for one man, Moshe received divine assistance to complete this task each day.

Why did God command Moshe to do this, when the task was impossible without divine assistance? Perhaps this episode is given to the world as an example of the correct way to approach the feeling of futility and depression that come from failure. When confronted, as Moshe was, with a situation that seems impossible, the correct response is not to retreat into rationalizations for why it is not worth trying. Rather, a person should enthusiastically embrace the task, and do the best that he physically can, "with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence." To dutifully step bravely forward, against all odds, with faith in God -- that is our charge in life. If God sees fit to assist, as He did for Moshe and countless times in history, that is good. And if He chooses not to, so be it, for this has nothing to do with Man's duty to act on what he has ascertained to be right and just and good.

It is not our job to finish any task. However, it is neither our right to shirk correct action. We are to move forward, doing good, with the serene knowledge that this is all God asks of us. The ultimate result of anything is up to Him.




you interesting people