a Meaningful Life with Simon Jacobson
Radio Show Transcript - August 8, 1999
Mike Feder: Hello everybody. This is Mike
Feder and Iím here with Rabbi Simon Jacobson. Tonight we are
going to talk about depression and mental illness.
First of all, let me mention before we plunge
into the program, that last week we got some really great calls,
and we want you to call in for tonightís show. The number to
call at WEVD is 212-244-1050.
Tonightís topic is something Iíve wanted to talk
about for a long time and itís a topic thatís been all over
the newspapers in the last week or two. There have been articles
about it in the New York Times. Hereís one right in front of
me from a week ago. It says, in effect, that according to statistics,
over 19,000,000 Americans (thatís a lot of people) over the
age of 18 are affected by depression, and for many it is considered
to be a medical condition.
I read another article the other day that the
number of suicides is up, especially among young people. Itís
like a plague. So the question is, where do you think this comes
from and whatís it all about? What is the cause and what is
the meaning of such a huge problem like this?
Simon Jacobson: Well first of all, as an
overall perspective, dealing with a topic of this nature is
quite difficult because I donít believe in discussing this academically
or cerebrally, but when you put yourself in the shoes of people
and their families who suffer, it is quite demoralizing and
the negative experiences are quite powerful. In many ways, mental
illness, depression, however you want to categorize it, is much
worse than almost any other illness. It is not necessary more
life threatening, which it can be, but because it so erodes
a personís confidenceÖ
Feder: You suffer from despairÖ
Jacobson: It erodes the confidence of an
individual, and exhibits a lack of control in the ability to
function, the inability to follow what your mind tells you because
your emotions simply take over. By extension, it also demoralizes
families, because thereís nothing more demoralizing than lack
And when it comes to the mind, which is a very
complex organism, anything that affects it, whether it be a
chemical imbalance, or depression, or whatever form you want
to call mental illness, has directly impact on human dignity.
Once human dignity is affected, you are confronted with a secondary
problem, even more powerful than the original one, because thereís
the shame, the resignation, the inability to make a move, the
So I want to begin with a disclaimer that there
needs to be sensitivity in addressing something of this nature,
particularly when weíre talking to people who have either been
affected by it or are families, relatives and friends of people
who have been affected by it.
Itís also important to distinguish between clinical
depression, where it becomes a medical condition to the extent
that intervention is necessary outside of the human being, whether
itís pharmaceutical intervention, meaning you need drugs, or
other types of interventionÖ
Feder: Shock treatment, hospitalsÖ
Jacobson: To that extent, right. And even
therapy to the point where you have a combination of all of
the above, as opposed to a depression where people go "through
the blues" or even severe forms of it, but it is more or
less within the individualís control.
But there is a thin line between the two, because
one definitely leads into the next, and sometimes itís hard
to distinguish between them because it could be a combination
of many things. It could be things that are out of your control,
but it could be things that are in your control.
I think a very wise and sensitive approach is
that you never undermine the human dignity, and you do allow
a person to use everything in their resources to achieve some
type of strength and confidence, supplementing that with whatever
may be necessary to get out of that particular situation or
create a balance, an alignment, so the person can move forward.
In a show like this itís important to distinguish
between the two because theyíre not in the same category.
Now, your questions are very legitimate ones.
I was thinking when you were asking them, what was going on
100 or 200 years ago? Did they not have statistics? Did they
not have a sophisticated understanding of mental illness so
instead people were just written off as crazy orÖ
Feder: Locked away and not treatedÖ
Jacobson: Exactly. People unable to function
were just put in one big pot where everyone was non-functional,
whereas today thereís more of an understanding that there are
different levels of that, there are bouts, there are ups and
down, and so on.
So itís very hard to make a comparison to previous
generations because we donít have statistics, things werenít
measured the same way then.
Feder: Iíll tell you, I think youíre right
about not being able to make a comparison between 100 years
ago and now, but you know, these statistics from 20 or 30 years
ago, thereís an exponentially tremendous leap in the number
of people who are depressed or even visibly depressed. Something
Jacobson: Oh yes, of course. I made that
statement not in any way to diminish or to minimize the fact
that there are statistics, high rates of suicide, etc. Obviously,
without being oversimplistic, the thing you can point at, whenever
you find an erosion of self-confidence, whenever you find a
higher rate of suicide, especially by young people who at birth
did not show any visible mental handicaps, and the statistics
that you cited earlier, itís very glaring how itís so much connected
to the general view of ourselves in society today.
And this is a theme weíve been touching on consistently,
which is, how significant and meaningful is your life? So even
if itís, you mention 19,000,000 people, and even if itís just
a small percentage of teenagers that actually will commit suicide,
G-d forbid, or think about it, that doesnít mean that those
who donít think about it do have that self-confidence.
It just means that for some it hasnít reached that extreme.
Some people can be in denial of their own insignificance.
But we live in a society where thereís a very
deep undermining (not intentional by any person or individual),
itís just a vicious cycle, of real self-worth. For example,
take a look at the media. Billions and trillions of dollars
go into mass media, where essentially the message that we project
to people is that value lies in superficial externals. Whether
it be television, radio, the internet, newspapers, they are
all essentially trying to sell people a product. Advertising
has become highly sophisticated in its psychological approach.
A friend I know tells me he was once a therapist and decided
to change careers and go into advertising. I asked him, "How
is it going?" And he said he was doing the same thing except
heís being paid ten times as much. He said here heís manipulating
minds and emotions, and there he was trying to understand the
mind and heart in order to help bring some healing.
Feder: You call that the same thing? Iím
glad I never saw him as a shrink!
Jacobson: The same thing meaning heís using
his expertise in understanding the workings of the mind... And
people do respond to subliminal messages, etc. But essentially
it comes down to this: youth is worshipped, money is worshipped,
status, looks, beauty, and from this what message do you get
about your value? The message is that your value is based on
how much you achieve or what rung of the ladder youíve climbed
in status or how much buying power you have, how young you look.
Feder: What shape youíre in.
Jacobson: You even see the obsession with
cosmetic surgery and how much that has grown in leaps and bounds,
how much has been invested. Now, per se, that may not be a problem,
but when itís imbalanced, and itís only that, and there isnít
any cultivation of human spirit or that your value doesnít go
far beyond the externals, the transient, then itís inevitableóin
a culture that worships youth, when a person grows a little
older and thereís a point where you cannot hide that age any
longeróhow could they not go into some type of depression?
Now, the fact that one needs to age to recognize
this reality just means that it took a little while for that
awareness to emerge. But even while the person has everything
that it takes, and they have the looks and money and all of
that, nevertheless the bottom line is that in their subconscious,
the message is that your value is based on those externals.
When the internal compass or internal voice that is most important
to nurture and nourishóthe spirit and soulóis completely ignored,
there has to be a deep hunger and thirst that has to express
itself in a form of undermining of oneís own confidence and
self-esteem and dignity
Feder: But your personal worth is virtually
Jacobson: Now, I want to qualify that statement
as well. By no means am I trying to say that the cause of depression
and the cause of clinical depression is a result of our culture
or of the media or of this undermining.
What I am saying is that this type of environment
doesnít help. And I would say that in some cases it is the beginning
of the roots of the problem. Sometimes the roots go back to
the home. Remember, this isnít just an issue of the media, itís
also what our parents tell us, because our parents are also
influenced by the media, and theyíre also influenced by the
mass culture and mass mentality. So essentially a child is told
that if you donít do this, youíre not special. The type of message
that a mother and father should be telling a child, that you
are unconditionally indispensable and valuable no matter what
you doóI donít mean no matter what in a bad wayóI mean even
if your looks are not perfect, even if your money is not perfect,
even if your status isnít up there, all those are externals,
and you are valuable because you have a spirit, because G-d
put you here, because you have something to contribute. But
that message is not given to us as children, so the fact that
a child grows up intact, I would say, is just despite the odds.
Because the truth is, everything is stacked up
against that child, so then itís like any type of combustion.
There are many causes that lead to a fire, but when you create
a situation where thereís a lot of pressure from many different
angles, then any spark can be the catalyst, and there comes
a point where you canít really distinguish what really led this
person into a state of such depression and even mental illness.
Now I am distinguishing between someone whoís
born with, or has developed, a chemical imbalance that really
just happens (there are reasons for everything Iím sure) but
you canít really point your finger at a non-nurturing home,
it could be a person who has a spiritual center and still has
gone to such a state. Thatís why I want to make sure that itís
not a black and white generalization. Iím just making a comment
that I have no doubt that if people had that self-esteem
and that celebration of spirit, thereís no doubt that it would
help in many situations, and I would say even in a clinical
one, it cannot hurt to have that type of message.
You know, when you hear the stories about an autistic
child, where itís clearly a medical condition and not a psychological
one (itís psychological to a certain extent, but I mean to say
that itís not a result of human error)óitís a genetic issue,
and you hear the story of how mothers dedicated their lives
to love that child, to do everything possible, and you hear
that miracles have happened in how a child can perform: the
optimism, the dignity.
And then of course the other extreme is that parents
are so ashamed that they hide the child in a basement or they
lock them away, or they ignore the issue and say that itís not
my child. The message that is being told to the spirit of that
child is quite powerful. And I donít buy it when people just
say that the child is unaware, because the spirit is always
And weíll discuss that, because Iíd like to discuss
the issue of what exactly, from a spiritual or cosmic dimension,
is depression and mental illness.
Feder: Okay, so now youíve been talking
about definitions and causes. But before we move on, letís take
a call from Pinchas.
Caller: Rabbi Jacobson, this is one of
your friends from Boro Park. I just wanted to ask you a question.
I happen to deal with people who have this problem of depression,
not clinical depression. I would like to ask you, what would
you recommend as therapy for these people. When you see the
person, what would you say to the person just to remove the
first pain of the depression?
Jacobson: Thank you for the question. If
you donít mind, we will get to some answers a little later in
the show, but since weíre doing this in order, itís wiser to
try to put it into perspective. So weíll take the questions,
some Iíll try to answer immediately, and others Iíll answer
throughout the show. But I will say this, which is a springboard
to our next thought, but as the Baal Shem Tov says, for every
question thereís an answer, and for every answer thereís another
question. So all questions will be answered, and all answers
will have new questions!
Feder: Well, that could make you feel a
Jacobson: Well, look at it as climbing
a ladder. But the caller did just address something that is
important to recognize that on the radio here itís very hard
to make any generalizations. When youíre dealing with a topic
like this, itís critical to look at it on a case by case basis.
In every situation case by case is necessary, but here even
more so because there are so many intricate elements and details
and nuances and subtleties: family dynamics, the position of
that person at work, do they have a spouse, what else is going
on in their life. So itís critical to know what is going on
with all that before just suggesting what to do.
But I will make some suggestions in response to
this caller, but before we do that, Iíd like to address the
actual issue in aóI donít want to call it mystical óbut letís
call it a more spiritual perspective.
In a sense, you can ask the question, why would
G-d allow for such a dichotomy between mind and heart, between
human emotions and intellect, to take placeóan imbalance of
this nature, where a person can lose control of his or her own
Of course, this touches on the issue of why G-d
allows any good people to suffer, and in general, human suffering
as a whole, because this is clearly in that same category. But
I was thinking about an interesting thing: you know I didnít
even realize it when we determined to do this topic, that in
the Jewish calendar now weíre in a period of time that you can
say is the cosmic healing from a cosmic state of depression.
Now let me explain what I mean. In the Jewish
calendar, we are now in the Seven Weeks of Consolation, which
follow the Three Weeks of Lamentation or grief or the three
weeks of pain and suffering, (concluding with Tisha BíAv, the
three weeks) and the seven weeks that follow are in a sense
a consolation which conclude with Rosh Hashanah.
Now just for the record, the Three Weeks are essentially
the period of time in which the destruction of the Holy Temple
in Jerusalem took place close to 2,000 years ago; both the First
Temple and the Second Temple, the first one destroyed by the
Babylonians, and the second one by the Romans, of which the
only thing that remains is the outer wall, or Western Wall.
It is commemorated on the calendar with the beginning of the
Three Weeks being a fast day of mourning and grievingóthatís
when they breached the wallóand concluding with Tisha BíAv,
the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, which is the day when
the actual building was burned down, both in the First and Second
Temples, interestingly enough, 490 years apart.
Now, thatís the historical element. But on a mystical
dimension, or you could say on a deeper level, why do Jews still
grieve almost 2,000 years later? Because the Temple represented
much more than just a building, it represented the Divine presence
in this world. It represented a window between heaven and earth,
between spirit and matter, between our purpose of existence
and our existence. And in a sense, with the destruction of the
Temple, a certain window was closed.
Feder: Cutting us off from G-d.
Jacobson: From G-d, and in a way, from
our own quintessential selves, and our own purpose of existence.
So in a way you can say all pain, all tragedy, all suffering,
is a symptom and a result, because if a person is in touch with
their higher calling, and what (Iíll use simple English) you
do is connected with what you are, if you can solve it at that
root level, most problems will be solved automatically.
Itís when you lose touch with yourself, in a sense
you wander away from your own calling, you donít know why youíre
here. You donít have any real driving force to wake up in the
Feder: So maybe you might add that if youíre
separated from a Divine order, or a sense of the Divine orderÖ
Jacobson: Right. Being connected or anchored
to something thatís absolute. Then youíre not just swept away
by the vicissitudes and the ups and downs of material life,
you know, today my boss was in a good mood so Iím in a good
mood, tomorrow my client is obnoxious so that blows my day.
In other words youíre holding onto a tree thatís
anchored with deep roots into absolutes of certain standards,
of certain values, a certain center or core. Then, when life
shakes you up, twigs and branches may break off the tree, but
the tree remains stout and firm.
The Three Weeks is thr name of this period of
the year. Why "three"? Three refers to the three intellectual
faculties that are cut off from the emotions. In Kabbalistic
thought, the cosmic picture, or the human psyche is divided
into two categories of three and seven. I donít want to get
too complicated, but it is a form of dichotomy, or a cut-off,
a disalignment, out of sync between your mind and your heart.
And the Seven Weeks of Consolation, in a sense,
is realigning the heart once again with the mind, where you
do have a form of reconciliation where those three weeks which
would be considered a form of depression, a form of not exactly
mental illness, but itís a cut-offÖ
Feder: A splitting offÖ
Jacobson: Between two parts is realigned
and reconnected into one seamless whole.
Feder: Do these seven weeks end with the
High Holidays, reuniting with the Divine presence?
Jacobson: Thatís the objective, of course;
that thereís a consolation and a healing that follows this split.
Now, by no means is this a justification, nor
is it an explanation for human depression. But I did want to
place it in a more subtle form, in microcosm,
Feder: As above so belowÖ
Jacobson: Yes. Something like that. That
it does exist. And remember, when a human being created in the
Divine image suffers from any type of mental illness or depression,
itís not just an anomaly, but it does have roots in the dichotomy
of existence itself.
As soon as G-dís presence is hidden from us, as
soon as we can be split between who you are and what you do,
that immediately is, in a sense, a split that can lead to more
severe forms of mental imbalance.
Feder: Taking the great circle root here,
everything youíve said is necessary to be said, but is there
any possible answer to the listenerís call before?
Jacobson: Oh, this was not just an introduction
to the callerís question, I think Iíd like to dedicate an answer
to that further in the show: suggestions of what can be doneÖ
Feder: More hands-on.
Okay letís split off for a moment from the conversation.
You are listening to Rabbi Simon Jacobson, and this is Toward
a Meaningful Life with Simon Jacobson. My name is Mike Feder
and weíre here every Sunday night from 6-7pm and youíre listening
to WEVD, 1050AM in New York City.
This show is an outgrowth of the Meaningful Life
Center in Brooklyn, and this show is also based very much on
Rabbi Jacobsonís book called Toward a Meaningful Life, in
which almost every subject that you hear discussed on the air
here is discussed in the book.
We really want to thank everyone who has emailed
us or written or called us. Here are some of the ways you can
get in touch with us, and we want to hear from you. The most
important thing is the telephone number: 1-800-3MEANING or 1-800-363-2646.
You can also email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can always write to us at The Meaningful Life Center, 788
Eastern Parkway, Suite 303, Brooklyn, NY 11225.
Iíd like to also tell you that we have a new website
where you can download transcripts of this program, and previous
and future programs. Itís www.meaningfullife.com.
Now, Iíve got all kinds of questions, but is there
anything youíd like to talk about first?
Jacobson: Yes. Thereís a reason I connected
the physical depression to the spiritual depression, not to
console us, but in a way it is a form of consolation because
we have to realize that certain realities of life are such,
that we live in a world where thereís always a state of depression,
because the only place where there would not be any type of
depression or sadness is in a perfect world, in a paradise world,
But as soon as a human being is created, there
are two voices or two forces or two energiesóthe evil inclination
and the good inclinationóas soon as a human being has the ability
to be hypocritical, to lie, to be deceitful, you immediately
have a situation where the reality is split into two at least.
Now, by no means does this mean that this causes
depression, but recognizing this split is recognizing the root
or the environment in which we live in. And knowing that teaches
us how precarious and how fragile life is. You donít have to
wait for depression to hit to realize that thereís a problem.
The problem exists even before one actually suffers from depression.
Feder: So the ground is fertile.
Jacobson: Very fertile. And particularly,
as I mentioned earlier, we can have a society that values certain
things, which has nothing to do with your true value. You, Mike,
or myself or our listeners can be valued for something that
has really nothing to do with you. It could be completely circumstantial.
You inherited a million dollars so suddenly youíre valued. Or
you have something that somebody wants. And that, in a sense,
is whatís called in Chassidic terminology living in a false
world, a world that lies, a world that is able to lie.
Feder: So you could be just as depressed
by being valued for the wrong thing as being not valued for
the right thing.
Jacobson: Right. Knowing that this is a
cosmic problem, not just an individual anomaly, weíre all affected
by it. Thatís why Tisha BíAv is not just for people who are
depressed, itís for all of us. It is a wake up call to all people,
including those who donít know that they perhaps should feel
that thereís a dichotomy in our lives.
What it does is, it puts things in a certain perspective
that allows a person to figure out what to do about it. Where
do we go from here?
And again, we must distinguish between clinical
(once it gets to a point where itís medical) or for some other
reason that clearly need intervention thatís beyond what Iím
going to describe here.
Feder: We have a call from Carol. Youíre
on the air. Go ahead.
Caller: Hi. Iíd like to ask how the principle
of Tisha BíAv and the Three Weeks and the Seven Weeks that you
mentioned applies to non-Jews who donít observe those per se
as Jews do?
Jacobson: The response to that is based
on a Midrash. The Midrash says, interestingly, that the Holy
Temple is not just for the Jews. It says that had the non-Jews
known what the Holy Temple accomplishes for them, the blessings
that it bestows upon them, the fact that itís a channel for
G-dlinessónot just for the Jews but for the entire worldóthey
would have surrounded it and protected it and not allowed it
to be destroyed.
As a matter of fact, in one of the prophecies
it says that the Holy Temple is a house for prayer, a place
that is like a channel between the Divine and the entire world.
So though itís clearly a Jewish Temple in that
sense (but thereís an element in Judaism and in the Torah that
is universal), the G-dly presence in this world clearly brings
blessings to all of us, because everyone is created in the Divine
image. And when thereís less of a dichotomy between heaven and
earth, itís a universal blessing, not just a Jewish issue.
But the Midrash is what I cite, particularly for
Feder: But you know, there are relevant
holidays like this in every religion where there is loss, suffering
and mourning, and then there is redemption and healing.
Jacobson: So the message of healing and
redemption is universal. Now to go back to where weíre at (we
were talking about intervention), clearly, in a large topic
like this, in a situation where itís been determined that a
person is not in control of his or her own selves, like a "demon"
thatís taken over (I just use the word "demon" as
a metaphor), professional help may be necessary and should be
pursued, particularly if the person is a danger to themselves.
Feder: It they can cause injury to themselves
Jacobson: Right. So clearly then you canít
just sit down and say, "letís talk," but I always
believe that unless thereís an immediate danger, with respect
to human dignity you always want to give the person the option
of doing something about it before something has to be done.
Feder: Can you explain that more clearly?
Jacobson: In other words, if you see someone
whoís behaving in a destructive way, the first option youíd
like to say is, "Take responsibility for your life and
take your life in your hands." The reason we like to do
that is not because we want to avoid more serious intervention,
we want to respect an individual's dignity.
Feder: So this is before just laying a
treatment on a person.
Jacobson: Right. Iím just stating, for
example, letís say you have a child, or a friend, G-d forbid,
or someone who simply seems to be becoming more and more isolated,
locking themselves up, and you notice it and itís important
to keep your eyes open, so the first thing you donít want to
do is panic and run to a psychiatrist in a hospital. The first
thing is to have a conversation. Can you communicate and see
whatís going on?
Often, when it comes to the point where a person
canít communicate or they are self-destructive, you canít just
wait and sit around. But Iím talking about a situation where
you see signs and it may take years for something to really
become debilitating to the point of being unable to communicate
with him and try to reinforce his self-confidence to do something
about it, because, as I said earlier, probably the single most
secondary problem after the initial depression itself, is a
lack of confidence. It starts eroding your own will. You start
seeing yourself in a very shameful light, you want to lock yourself
up, you donít want anyone to see you in that way, so what happens
is you lose your will power, and once you lose your will powerÖ
Feder: It just builds on itselfÖ
Jacobson: Exactly. So the immune system
doesnít want to fight, in a senseÖ
Feder: The psychic immune system.
Jacobson: And it is critical to encourage
a person and give him that power. And how does one do that?
So here, we always talk about G-d and soul and spirit, when
it comes to this issue, frankly, including G-d in the solution
is critical, because ultimately the only argument that you
can tell someone when they really feel down and say "my
life isnít really worth it, I donít want to go on, or, itís
just a mess," and they give all rational reasons, and theyíll
Feder: A divorce, a separation, a deathÖ
Jacobson: The only way to hold onto some
type of, whatís called "bitochen," or trust,
faith, hope, is to rise above your own self, above the mortal,
above the mundane, and reach to something that is more eternal.
Feder: But the eternal could be something
that is right around you, it doesnít have to be some abstract,
prayerful dedication, it can be the world right around you,
the joy of the world, or anythingÖ
Jacobson: Well, Iíd like to put it this
way. Itís the recognition that youíre here in this world for
a purpose, and youíre needed. You canít just make a statement
that youíre not needed anymore because I donít feel good about
myself. In a subtle way, thatís a form of arrogance, because
you are needed. And life is fraught with challenges.
A challenge does not mean that you should suddenly make a decision
that itís over with for me. Or I canít handle it.
No, G-d gave you a vote of confidence that you
can handle every challenge in your life. And again, Iím talking
about the situation where you can still communicate with a person
in this way. I would even argue that this should be said to
someone whoís suffering from clinical depression. Not because
you expect that these words alone will heal them; they may need
medication, they may need other intervention, but these words
will definitely complement that. That when they do finally create
a chemical balance or whatever it is that they need, these words
are very important, because this is what will maintain a person.
Itís a message, itís almost a mantra.
Feder: Let me bring it down to specifics
here. Letís say I call you and wake you up at 2 in the morning,
and Iím so distraught I feel like I canít live with myself,
or live at all anymore. And you say, out of the goodness of
your heart, okay, come over and Iíll talk to you.
So I come over to your house, and I sit in a room
with you and I say, "I feel like I donít want to exist
anymore. I feel like Iím going to kill myself and remove myself
from this earth, and the reason is that I feel so worthless
and so loathsome, that I donít even deserve to be alive."
How can you just say to a person, you know, you
really do deserve to be alive? In other words, simple words
like thatÖ the person wouldnít be coming to you in the first
place if they really already could accept that, do you know
what Iím saying? Or maybe Iím asking the impossible.
Jacobson: No, youíre not asking the impossible.
I think we discussed this when we talked about suicide on a
Thereís something that a heart does for another
heart that defies words. If in this case, letís not say you,
someone came over to me, to my home, at 2:00 in the morning
and I would sit with them and allow my heart to be with them.
And hearts tend to melt into each other and have that power
that gives strength.
Itís not about words. Itís not about philosophy.
At that point, philosophy doesnít work.
Feder: Or intellect.
Jacobson: Right. Itís not about intellect.
Itís about that thereís someone there who cares, who says, "You
know, you may feel terrible about yourself, but I must tell
you, you have value," and even if they only hear 1% and
99% is clouded and completely impossible for them to hear, but
if you try to get drops of water into a person whose mouth is
clenched, most of it may pour on the floor, but if one drop
gets in, that can save his life.
So itís almost like giving that life-affirming
message. And remember, if a person reaches out to you, it means
they do trust you somewhat.
Feder: By the very fact that they reached
Jacobson: Right. So you have to call upon
that, and again, this may not be sufficient. If a person is
really in a difficult place and youíre their friend,
I might say, come, letís go to the hospital, or letís go to
a doctor, letís go to a psychiatrist. But if itís not at that
point, there are words that if they come from the heart, they
can be affirming, and especially if itís a friend and you give
him or her a kick in the pants as well. You know, you can say
"Cut this out."
It doesnít mean that thatís going to work, but
it sends some sort of psychological shock treatment where you
shake someone up and you try to awaken some type of confidence
Feder: Ah, now, a bit of the answer to
the question in the beginning.
Jacobson: So I use G-d here, not in the
context of some type of religious escape as some see it, but
I see it really as the vital element that "you are here
for a purpose, youíre indispensable. For you to make a statement
that itís not worth it, or that itís too difficult, or itís
overwhelmingóI have no purpose to my existenceóyou are essentially
challenging G-dís vote of confidence of putting you on this
And a human being has to have the humility to
realize that he did not create himself. You have been put here.
And you can choose what to do with your life, but you cannot
make the choice whether you should be here or not.
Feder: So in a way thereís a certain grandiosity.
Youíre almost usurping, from what youíre saying, G-dísÖ
Jacobson: Itís almost like inverted arrogance.
Instead of sayingÖ
Feder: You created yourself, so you can
do whatever you want with yourselfÖ
Jacobson: Including self-destruction. In
other word, arrogance can take the shape of, Iím pompous, I
have an ego, but arrogance can also be that Iím worthless. So
the question is, who are you to say that youíre worthless?
Feder: What makes you so special to think
youíre so worthless, right?
Jacobson: Exactly. Now Iím not saying this
argument will touch a person whoís in that dark place, but thatís
why we do a show like this, because this message should be taught
to our children, not once their depressed, G-d forbid, but now,
when things are going well. Every morning a child should be
taught this message, that theyíre important, because ultimately
one day, should they ever need to reach into a deeper arsenal
of resources, that message will resonate.
If you wait until the storm strikes, you canít
start suddenly building roots for a tree.
Feder: I think itís like something you
once said. Itís like clay: once it hardens or gets baked in
the oven of the world, good luck, right?
Jacobson: Thatís why I intentionally connected
it to the cosmic picture, to understand the universe in this
way. This particular show is not just for people who are actually
suffering. The problem there is the hardest situation to do
something about it, because youíre already in it.
Which leads me to another point Iíd like to make.
And that is, the issue of reaching out to others. What happens
is this: the shame and the demoralization and the humiliation
involved when a person is not in control of their own emotions,
and they know that it doesnít make sense, itís just that theyíre
so anxious or depressed, causes the person to islotae himself.
It is therefore critical to reach out.
Allow me to cite a passage in the Talmud. The
Talmud says two opinions on a verse in the Bible, "If a
person has worries, yasichena." So the Talmud asks,
what does this word yasichena mean? And it has two interpretations.
One is that yasichena comes from the word "verbalize
it, communicate it, go speak to someone."
Feder: So if a person is worried, they
should talk about it.
Jacobson: Right. Iím talking about real
worry, anxiety that can lead to more serious states.
The second interpretation that the Talmud brings
is yasiach from the words hesech hadaas, from
the words "distract yourself." Push it away from your
mind and think about something else.
The question is asked: these two interpretations
seemingly contradict each otheró communicating and verbalizing
is actually focusing in on the problem, while distracting yourself
is pushing it away and not addressing it.
Feder: But they really are the same thing.
I mean, while youíre talking, youíre not brooding about it at
Jacobson: Okay. Fine. Itís a rhetorical
question, and I think the point is this. That when you communicate
with someone, you release yourself of it. Itís no longer your
own lonely problem. Because as they say, when it comes to real
abuse, the silence is worse than the abuse. The loneliness of
silence, the darkness, the shadows of sitting alone, when no
one is there who understands or who is with you, in a way feeds
into the depression because it just justifies your position,
"You see, I have no value. No one is here for me."
Feder: I asked the question and thereís
no one to answer me.
Jacobson: Right. So the reaching out to
someone and being able to communicate it, first of all, introduces
fresh light, fresh energy, where, as the Talmud puts it elsewhere,
a person in fetters canít free him or herself. If youíre in
a pit and thereís no rope, you canít pull yourself out of the
Feder: Someoneís got to pull you.
Jacobson: Right. Now, that acknowledgment
should not be humiliating, especially if you can find a trusting
person, because it means that you are able to reach out. Thatís
a great strength to be able to reach out.
Feder: I mentioned once before that I
was in a mental hospital once, a while ago. And so I know this
from experience, the one thing that everyone has in common in
those places, among other things, is that they are ashamed of
themselves for being in there. They are humiliated. This is
not the people who are so far gone that they donít even know
what world theyíre living in anymore. Anyone who has a slightest
sense of self-awareness, the memories of their behavior comes
back to them. And everybody knows this, that as soon as you
get better a little bit, for a couple of days or a week in a
place like that, the thing that hits you is a wave of shame
and humiliation. Can you address that? In other words, why should
people feel so ashamed that they are lost and weak?
Jacobson: Because itís a testimony to human
dignity, and I would use the expression "the image of G-d."
The fact that we have a certain sense of dignity, of majesty,
and when thatís been in some way damaged or scratched or compromised,
that dignity itself is a root for the shame.
Feder: But the shame is always in reference
to other people. You think, what will they think of me?
What will my family think of me, what will the world think of
Jacobson: Thatís the way we articulate
it. But I would say that the shame is really with yourself.
Itís not just for others. I believe that if we were alone on
an island, weíd also have that shame, because a person canít
deal with the fact that I should be in control of myself, that
I should be able to take hold of myself when my thoughts and
feelings are so overwhelming. I know that itís not that dark,
so why does it seem so paranoic, or so bleak?
I think the shame is with ourselves, itís not
just an external thing. It also extends, of course, to those
around us, because we also feel guilt. Look at what Iíve done
to others and now they have to provide for me and take care
of me when I should be taking care of myself.
Per se that shame is not necessarily an unhealthy
thing. Because if one didnít have that shame, that would be
a statement that itís just easy for us to compromise our dignity.
The key is to recognize that shame results from awareness, from
sensitivity. Itís almost like pain, that the reason you have
pain is that youíre sensitive.
If you werenít sensitive, as you put it, youíd
be so far beyond that you would not feel any shame. As the verse
states: more knowledge, more pain. Youíre aware of your own
situation, and that should be seen as a virtue: "Hey, Iím
aware of that. Isnít that a sign of life?"
Itís like a stroke victim who couldnít feel pain
in her nerves, and when she finally feels pain, shouldnít complain,
but should say, "Hey, you know, this is sign of life, maybe
now I can work on it."
And the shame should be a catalyst to bring more
dignity in and more willpower to say, "I donít want to
be this way." If the shame is converted into that, it becomes
a very valuable tool. What makes shame terrible is when it becomes
something you want to hide. You want to run away. And it again
feeds into the self-destructiveness.
But if the shame is turned into, "Yes, Iím
ashamed. I donít want to be this way," or "I need
medical intervention," then you may begin to act on it.
Of course, you have many people who have grandiose thoughts
that they may not need any intervention. That is why it is important
to have the modesty and recognize that perhaps I need certain
medication, or I need to see a psychiatrist or keep in touch
with friendsónot to suddenly ignore or go into denial over what
Feder: So maybe weakness is a word that
should never be used in this context, right? Itís almost like
a pejorative, like cowardice, weakness, any word like that.
Jacobson: Right. Itís hard to tell a person
what they should or shouldnít feel. But when you arm yourself
with the information beforehand, itís like a cognitive life
raft, that when the time comes, you can almost reach into your
"cupboard," into your resources, and you have that
Feder: So youíre prescribing preventative
Jacobson: Thereís no question about that.
Whether it will always work there are no guarantees. There are
things that are more powerful, and I donít even want to venture
into the area of why G-d allows a person to fall into a place
like that. I mean, I refer to metaphors or parallels to the
cosmic picture, but it still doesnít justify why a person or
their families have to experience anything like that. Nevertheless,
I definitely think that every challenge can be dealt with, even
if we donít understand the reasons for it. And itís critical
that families, parents, siblings, and those around do not run
away from it, because that adds to the shame, like if they donít
even want to see the person, or talk about it, like it never
Feder: I think sometimes running away from
the problem can also be taking somebody (and this is the popular
trend these days) to a doctor who gives you this, that, and
the other pill, talks to you for five minutes and says, "Take
this for a while and youíre fixed."
To me, thatís also running away from it. That
may be controversial, but thatís the way I see it.
Jacobson: It has to be seen ultimately
from a psychological perspective, that any type of depression,
and I again qualify that Iím not talking about the clinical
situation where you need intervention, but the psychological
perspective where you can address it. Sadness and depression
have to be seen not as an end in itself. If a person feels inadequate,
or they feel that they can achieve much more, or they feel a
very deep anxiety and sadness, that has to be converted into
a sensitivity for growth. For example, tears should be seeds
for growth, not an end in themselves.
And itís the same thing here. Thereís an expression
in the Bible that says that thereís profit in anxiety, or thereís
profit in sadness. So in the Tanya, a classic book of
Jewish thought, the author explains that that doesnít mean that
sadness has a virtue, it just means that sadness can lead
to a virtue.
On its own, it doesnít lead to any profit, so
to speak, but it can lead to something, like leading you to
the joy that follows, like coming out from the darkness into
the light. And ultimately itís all about the celebration of
human dignity that you matter, that youíre inherently valuable.
Holding onto that for dear life is the single most powerful
message that parents can give children. As I mentioned earlier
regarding the autistic children that weíve heard stories about,
or others, where a deep sense of dignity was transmitted continuously,
and unconditionally, and not fabricated -- this does something
to the spirit. The spirit responds to it.
Feder: Okay. We have a caller. We have
Baruch from New York.
Caller: The rabbi mentioned before that
the Talmud says that if a person has a worry, he should talk
about it with other people. What I have a problem with is that
nowadays, instead of the clergy and people in general, people
should be promoting this idea that itís a mitzvah if a person
has a problem to lend an ear to a friend, to listen. It shouldnít
be that itís only when people feel they have difficulties and
are under stress that they have to go to a so-called professional.
There should be this encouragement that part of being a friend
is to listen. A friend sometimes can do a better job than a
so-called professional who sometimes has a conflict that because
for money, they might want to encourage a patient to come back
20 times because theyíre getting paid by the hourÖ
Jacobson: The point is very well taken.
A true friend can in some ways be much greater than a professional.
I donít preclude a professional, because sometimes you need
someone who has that training, but lending an ear or communicating
Ö the Talmud does not call a therapist, it just says to communicate
to someone. And that someone would optimally be a friend or
someone that you can really trust.
Feder: Well, as always, itís sad for me
to come to the end of these programs becauseÖ
Jacobson: Donít get depressedÖ
Feder: Iím not going to get depressed,
Iím going to handle it, because I have you to talk to!
This program is brought to us by "you,"
the listeners, and our underwriter tonight, the people who brought
this program to you are Ted and Lynn Doll, in honor of Tedís
mother Lorettaís 80th birthday, and we thank you
very much, Ted and Lynn.
Jacobson: And may she have health and many
Feder: And once again, you can contact
us here if you have any questions or statements, comments, anything,
at 1-800-363-2646, email@example.com,
or you can go to our website at www. meaningfullife.com, and
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And also Iíd like to say before we end that we
have received many requests, in fact, from people asking how
they can donate to the Meaningful Life Center, which is the
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you are our sponsors. We count on you the listener to make this
We have a couple of minutes left. Itís a sad,
serious thing thatís going on out there, and itís something
that affects almost everybody thatís listening, Iím sure.
Now letís say youíre alone in the world and you
donít have someone to reach out to, is there some sort of advice
or some sort of a blessing or something you can say to people
who are trying to carry on on their own, in a hard way in a
Jacobson: Well, itís critical not to feel
alone. Itís critical to find that friend or someone. I donít
think itís wise for anyone to say, "Iím alone and thatís
it." I donít think thatís good preventive medicine at all.
But I do want to respond to what youíre saying,
and to the caller early on, which is, what practically can be
Iíve discussed some preventive medicine in this
show so far, but actually, when you are dealing with people
in that situation (weíre not talking about clinical and that
which requires medication, hospitalization or professional help,
or other interventions), what can be done is to show true support
and a true vote of confidence in the person. To be a true friend.
Even a therapist, even people who are professionals,
thatís what they need to do. And that personal touch where you
project to others that you matter, that you are valuable, that
you have something to contribute.
If someone comes to you, Iím talking about Pinchas,
the first caller who asked what happens if someone comes to
you and itís a situation where you still can do something about
it, try to get them involved in something productive. Find out
what theyíre talented in, if itís music, or writing, or creative,
let them get involved in volunteer work, a hobby, but some type
of commitment where thereís accountability where they know they
have to rise to the occasion, because that forces them out of
their own little shell, and forces them to rise and say, "See,
Iíve accomplished something."
Success breeds success. Failure breeds failure.
And if a person locks himself up into a shell, the worse thing
that can happen is that they continue to travel inward, deeper
and deeper into their shell. Itís critical to pull them out.
And not by force, but to encourage them with enthusiasm in some
type of project. Anything that can help build self-esteem because
they will need it to fight.
It, in itself, may not be enough, but it clearly
helps deal with the issues.
Feder: Thank you very much for your advice
and for your words. Stay tuned next week at 6:00 when we talk
about hate crimes and anti-Semitism.