My Shabbos relaxation is reading a popular frum glossy. But this time it was it. To my horror, I realized that for the past few months, every single issue of their women’s supplement ran a major story about depression and mental illness.
Not that I advocate sweeping important issues under the carpet, but seriously are we all of us depressed? Though it doesn’t look that way on the surface, as I talk to more and more of my clients, all frum women, I am starting to sense that we are a dejected community.
We are insistently set on soul searching, on perfecting ourselves, our families, our children, and our world. We are in search of perfection: perfect spirituality, perfectly matched kids’ clothes, perfect personalities, perfect Shabbos tables, perfectly-themed mishlochei manot, and perfect shidduchim.
We are obsessed with trying to be good enough, holy enough, productive enough, and caring enough.
We are in a constant search for balance – between home and work, discipline and warmth, community and household, others and ourselves.
And so we are unhappy. We are unhappy because perfection is unattainable. It doesn’t exist. In the words of Yishayahu, humans are walking beings, forever destined to move forward, to develop, to search. Perfection is a myth because it is antithetical to progress and development, without which life is meaningless.
We are unhappy because we are letting everyone else – our parents and teachers and neighbors and communities – write the books of our lives for us. And we are unhappy because all around us we see the deceptively smooth, gold-embossed leather bindings of everyone else’s books, as ours are filled with smudges and half-finished stories and blank pages.
We are unhappy because our plates are overflowing with everything we did not pile on them, or actually did without wanting to. We are so scared of appearing selfish and egoistic, of displeasing anyone and everyone that we push our own meat and potatoes to the side to make room for everyone else’s dessert.
And so the magazine which is supposed to bring us joy and pleasure on Shabbos (pleasure rooted in self-sufficiency is the essence of Shabbos) is full of sad stories and mussar and problem solving tips and stylized, never-in-your-kitchen food pictures.
So as we pour all of our energy into fixing everything that is not right, we are missing happiness, since Chassidus teaches us an out-of-balance emphasis in imperfection pulls us away from the emotional ability to experience joy and pleasure.
But there is hope. We can become better, more spiritual, more caring, more accomplished and we can be happy, if we would just go about it in a different way. You see, Baal Hatanya teaches that the way to move around a dark room is not by groping the furniture. It’s by turning on the light!
Instead of fixing our many wrong-doing, we can enjoy Hashem’s wonderful world and reconnect with our unique gifts and skills – the foundation of our Divine purpose. Instead overeducating our kids, we can make Yiddishkeit fun and invigorating. As one woman put it, in all the years of Beis Yaakov she had been taught mesirus nefesh, but nobody had ever told her that raising a happy family is a priority. Instead of solving our unending problems, we can start making our lives more pleasurable and more fulfilling. And ultimately more meaningful.
Lack of happiness is the root of all evil, the driving force of all of our community’s problems. Tachat shelo avadata et Hashem besimcha is a prelude to an exhaustive list of curses. Let’s not travel down that path.
As Pesach approaches, let’s scrub away the thinking of oppression. Let’s leave the Mitzrayim of dejection. Let’s use the Yom Tov to turn on the light and the smiles in each one of our homes. Let’s make our communities brighter and better places to live.
Are you getting the same feelings? What’s your perspective?