Vayetzei – Handling Depression

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In the beginning of this week’s Torah portion of Vayetzei, Yaakov, sometime after leaving his parents, is promised by Hashem in the famous dream of the Angels going up and down the ladder, that he will have many offspring. Furthermore: “And behold, I am with you, and I will guard you wherever you go, and I will restore you to this land, for I will not forsake you until I have done what I have spoken concerning you” (Breishis 28:15).

After this episode, the Torah remarks: “Now Yaakov lifted his feet and went to the land of the people of the East” (Breishis 29:1). The Radak explains what it means by “Yaakov lifted his feet.” “Since G-D promised him and showed him this great vision he was happy and he easily lifted his feet and walked joyously, with a good heart. For originally, he was walking with weakened feet, like a person running away from his father’s house depressed. But he did not run away in a rush like one who runs away from the sword because he was not afraid of the sword of his brother as long as his father was alive.”(Click here for Hebrew text.)   It sounds like on some level Yaakov was depressed; Hashem lifted his spirits, and Yaakov was elated with joy after being promised blessing, security, and salvation by Hashem.

How could Yaakov Avinu be depressed after he took away the blessings from his brother and was told by his parents to leave his home? Aren’t we supposed to serve Hashem with joy and accept with a full heart anything that Hashem brings our way, no matter how dire the circumstances may be? If that’s the case, how could Yaakov, one of our forefathers, a role model for his descendants, feel a sense of depression?

We have to put things into perspective; Yaakov always did the right thing. He sat in the tent learning Torah most of his younger years, and the Torah testifies that he was a sincere person. Yaakov did as he was told from beginning to end. He listened to his mother when she told him to get the blessings. He now listened to his father (and mother) to go find a wife by his uncle Lavan. Yaakov wasn’t afraid of any danger, as the Radak said that he had nothing to worry about until his father died. It must be that he was simply upset to be the focal point of all that family stress, which in fact Esav was causing.

His depression must not have even affected him in a great manner, for Chazal testify that after he left his parents’ house he learned diligently in Yeshiva Shem ViEver for 14 years, unhindered by anything, to the point that when calculating the amount of years Yosef was away from Yaakov, which was a punishment for Yaakov not honoring his parents, those 14 years were not included in the calculation. Therefore it must be that during his time in yeshiva he put all his strength and effort into his learning of Torah. Furthermore, if his depression would have actually affect the way he served Hashem, then he would not have been deserving of Hashem coming to him and assuring him that He would be with him wherever he goes and that his future looked very bright, since he would not have deserved all that attention from Hashem. If this then is the case, what does the Radak mean that Yaakov was depressed?

We must say Yaakov still is only human, and on some miniscule level, which manifested itself in the way he walked, he looked depressed, even if for the most part he served Hashem to the utmost, putting in all the proper emotions and abilities into his service of Hashem. However, once he received chizuk [words of encouragement from Hashem] he was a new man, with a spring in his step, which gave him a whole new level of joy and elation.

It would seem that it is human nature for people to feel depressed at times, and it is a great kindness for others to lend a hand of security and encouragement to uplift that person. However, there are still expectations and responsibilities to learn; how to handle or control one’s depression so that it will not get in one’s way of walking on Hashem’s path and doing His will.