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Shabbat Parashat Eikev 5772

Ein Ayah: The Dangers of Despair

(condensed from Ein Ayah, Berachot 9:116)

Gemara:  Ulla and Rav Chisda were going on the way. When they reached the opening of Rav Chana bar Chanilai’s house, Rav Chisda let out a groan (or a sigh of despair). Ulla said: “Why are you groaning? Didn’t Rav say that a groan breaks half of a person’s body, as the pasuk says: ‘You, son of man, groan with the breaking of the loins’ (Yechezkel 21:11). Rabbi Yochanan said that it breaks all of a person’s body, as the pasuk says: ‘And if they ask you why you are groaning, tell them that it is because a report is coming into fruition, and every heart will melt, and every hand will weaken, and every spirit will dwindle, and every set of knees will turn into water …’ (ibid. 12).


Ein Ayah: Possessing bravery and strength of the spirit is a crucial characteristic for a person to have for life, whether in regard to physical or spiritual matters. When depressing thoughts sometimes arise in one’s heart and start to afflict the spirit, there are different ways of reacting. Some people think that if they see themselves going along with the tendency toward depression, by giving off a sigh of despair, they will overcome the depression. This is a false hope because there is no limit to the number of ways that a person’s imagination will conjure up a mood of depression. Therefore, by strengthening the feeling by giving it expression with an act of groaning, it will strengthen the power of imagination to continue to afflict him with depressing thoughts.

Rather the proper remedy for the situation is for a person to fight the tendency with inner strength. Really a person should not be sad but should strengthen his resolve to do that which is good. Sadness was created among a person’s characteristics just to teach him to distance himself from situations that really are saddening. However, one should not allow this type of feeling to take over him.

On the other hand, there are times for all different types of experiences. There are times when one should allow his emotions to be strong and consider all the negative impacts of leaving the paved path of Hashem. However, if one is going to use the power of getting truly upset, he should do so while using a clear thought process. Then he will not only groan, but he will cry bitterly, and this crying will actually strengthen and bring light to his spirit. After an hour of crying and feeling strong bitterness, he will experience days of light and a happy heart, as he finds comfort from the burden of disturbances to the proper flow of life. Then, with an awakened heart, he can approach the light of Hashem from which he had been distanced.

However, a sigh of despair could break forth at any time, including at a time when a strong spirit is called for. The sigh does not just make due with raising thoughts that are legitimately depressing, and it should be avoided. This spirit of depression operates directly on the parts of the body that are related to the spirit, such as the brain, the heart, and the nerves. That is why Rav said that it breaks half of a person’s body.

Yet who can put a limit to the interconnectedness of the parts of the body or can say that there is no connection to the parts of the body that have less susceptibility to mood swings? Indeed, all the body is connected to the critical parts that we mentioned. Therefore from the initial breaking of half the body, the whole body can be broken through cause and effect, which is what Rabbi Yochanan was talking about.

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