Chanukah – the Light of Faith Banishes Depression
In the modern era, incidences of depression have reached epidemic proportions as many suffer from this and other similar mental illnesses. Mental health professionals assert that over the past ten years demand for anti-anxiety drugs has doubled. For some, the mental anguish is so acute that they resort to extreme and violent behavior including murder and suicide, Rachmana Latzlan!
What accounts for this phenomenon? How is it that precisely at a time of great abundance, when even the average person can achieve and acquire things his ancestors could not even imagine, there is such a heightened state of mental and emotional distress?
We can explain this against the historical backdrop of the miracle of Chanukah which we are presently celebrating.
During the ancient Chanukah period, the Jews vanquished the Hellenist regime which had imposed many decrees in seeking to uproot the Jewish religion. Our holy Sages relate, one of the decrees was, “write for yourself on the horn of an ox that you have no portion in the God of Israel.”
What is the meaning of this decree and what is the significance of “the horn of an ox?”
Generally speaking, domestic animals differ from wild animals in several ways. Domestic animals are subservient to their masters; a horse will accept a yoke on its neck, a bridle in its mouth and will dutifully draw a heavy burden. It will suffer whipping and follow the will of its rider as he directs the reins. Wild animals, on the other hand, are not naturally subordinate. They defiantly stand to defend themselves, violently striking out against anyone who comes near them.
Among domesticated animals, the ox is the beast of burden with the most subservient nature, willing to take the most difficult yoke upon its shoulders and perform back-breaking labor of tilling the fields. By nature, the ox is prepared to accept the yoke of subjugation from any person, with tremendous patience and tolerance.
Accordingly, when our Sages wished to express the concept of unconditional acceptance of the yoke of Torah and Mitzvos, they compared it to the yoke of an ox. The Gemara states, “a person should always comport himself to receive words of Torah as an ox accepts a yoke” (Avodah Zarah 5b). Even when a person experiences difficulties, he is still obligated to learn Torah and perform the Mitzvos of the Creator with joy and good will, confident that everything is Divine Providence from Heaven. This is the true meaning of “Kabalas Ol Malchus Shamayim” – “Accepting the Yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven.”
When Moshe Rabbenu blessed the tribes, he described the features of each tribe. He compared Yosef to a “firstborn ox is his glory”. That is because Yosef HaTzaddik was the first to serve as an example of the concept of subservience to God, lovingly accepting the yoke of Heaven like an ox in every situation. During his stay among the heathens of Egypt, whether as a slave for Potiphar or an unjustly held prisoner, Yosef remained steadfast in his belief that everything is done for his favor and all is decreed from Heaven.
Through the power of Emunah, Yosef HaTzaddik merited success. Though a young man when enslaved and imprisoned, he never fell into the pit of despair and depression. Rather, he held himself in a lofty and spiritual mental state. He thus succeeded in every endeavor to the point that everyone around him could clearly see the power of his faith in Hashem and the rich benefits it yielded.
Indeed, the Torah states regarding Yosef, (Bereishis 39:3) “and his master (Potiphar) saw that Hashem was with him – and in all that he did, Hashem caused him to succeed.” And, when Pharaoh summoned Yosef to interpret his dreams, Yosef told him, “God will answer the welfare of Pharaoh” (ibid 41:16). This impressed Pharaoh greatly, and he exclaimed, “Where can we find such a man infused with the Spirit of God?!” Suddenly, as quickly as Yosef had been brought down to the lowest depths of humiliation, he was lifted up to the heights of honor becoming the viceroy of Egypt, a position second only to the king himself!
Yosef HaTzaddik achieved his unshakeable Emunah through the study of Torah, thus demonstrating to the Jewish People for all eternity, that Torah study leads to action, love and good will. Hence, when Yaakov and his children came down to Egypt, their first endeavor was to establish a house of study, a place to learn Torah and strengthen their faith to endure the pain and suffering that would follow through the course of their enslavement. Thereby, they also resisted attempts to assimilate them into pagan Egyptian culture and, thus, merited redemption form slavery and entry into the Promised Land.
We can now answer the question as to why the Greeks decreed that Jews renounce the God of Israel specifically on the horn of an ox. The goal of the Greeks was Jewish assimilation and acceptance of the secular Greek Culture which championed faith in humanism and the power of nature, as opposed to faithful acceptance the Yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven. They outlawed Torah Study, as this brings one to Emunah. Since the ox is the symbol of the concept of “accepting a yoke,” the Greeks wanted the Jews to perform a symbolic action to uproot this philosophy and instill in their minds that they have no portion in the faith and worship of the God of Israel. What more effective way of doing so than by making a declaration of rejection of God upon the very symbol of their fealty to Him?
Fortunately, Mattisyahu the Kohen Gadol and his sons assembled a few faithful Jews to fight for their principles. They waged a war against secular reason and nature, rallying “the few against the many.” Their unfaltering faith in God brought them victory over the Greeks, an eternal triumph which gave rise to the celebration of these days of Hanukkah.
The reason for the increase in depression in our generation is that secular Greek culture has arisen once again in our era with full strength. Lack of faith and trust in Hashem will invariably subject an individual to the vagaries of life’s experiences and will always lead to deep depression. And while modern medicine seeks to provide solutions for the mentally ill, the best cure for depression is preventive treatment and avoiding the stimuli that bring it on in the first place. Sedatives and antidepressants are no substitute for real joy and satisfaction. People who trust in Hashem accept every event as the will of the Creator. Even when there are financial difficulties, or sickness in the home, they never worry and never fall into depression. They know that when our loving Father in heaven wants to remove the problem, it will leave faster than when it came.
The Holy Baal Shem Tov, zy”a, explained the teaching of the Sages (Nedarim 9b) that “The wicked are filled with regrets,” to mean that evil people do not believe everything is under the supervision of Hashem. They think everything is within their control. Therefore, they are filled with regrets and beat themselves up when things don’t proceed according to their plans.
A Jew needs to know that everything that happens to him and everything he does is under the supervision of Hashem. And so, a person should not feel regret over anything he did (other than in the context of teshuvah from aveiros, and even then he must have in mind that Hashgachah pratis still plays a role) because it was all the Will of the Blessed Creator.
The best cure for the epidemic of depression today is strengthening our faith and trust in Hashem in our everyday life. This comes through the study of the Holy Torah and is symbolized by the lighting of the Chanukah candles which illuminate within us the Light of Torah and Emunah. The name “Chanukah” spells “Chinuch Hei”, which can be interpreted as “Education in the Five”, meaning the Chumash, the Five Books of the Torah.
Let us demonstrate that we indeed have a portion in the God of Israel and His Torah. May we accept everything He does with love and good will. And in this merit, may Hashem bestow upon us all blessings and redeem us soon with the light of Moshiach, Amen!