I am Mentally Ill

[Be-Ahavah U-Be-Emunah – Behaalotecha 5773 – translated by R. Blumberg]


Question: I am worthless. I’ve got a serious mental illness. I’m just not worth anything. Occasionally I go to the hospital for treatment and then I come back a nothing. I’m a wretch, my wife is a wretch, my children are wretches. I don’t do anything of worth in life.

I see my friends who went to school with me. All of them are successful. They teach Torah, they are rabbis, educators, while I’m just a dishrag. I study Torah several hours a day. I barely understand anything, I forget it all, due to the treatments I receive. What am I worth?

What is the purpose of my whole life? Very often I am sunk in depression, and I ask myself what I am living for? I’m not worth a thing.

Answer: To answer this question, one has to determine man’s purpose on earth. Is it to be a Torah scholar? Is it to be important? Is it to have high status? No. Man’s purpose is to serve G-d, as is explained in the first paragraph of the book Mesilat Yesharim. There are different avenues and modes of serving G-d, each one in accordance with its nature and place. The rule of thumb is: “The greater the pain, the greater the reward.”

The Master-of-the-Universe is not an achievement-oriented elitist. Rather, He appreciates the effort we make: “When Naomi saw what an effort Ruth made to go with her, she ceased arguing with her” (Rut 1:18). The Jerusalem Talmud states, “One Mitzvah involving pain is worth a hundred painless Mitzvot.” In your case, every Mitzvah is very hard, hence it is as precious in G-d’s eyes as a hundred Mitzvot that anyone else might do.

And the same goes with your Torah learning.

Rambam writes that man is judged in accordance with the majority of his deeds. If most of his deeds are meritorious, he is a Tzadik [righteous]. If most are sinful, he is a Rasha [evildoer]. If his deeds are half and half, he is a Benoni [in between]. If most of one’s deeds are evil, he will immediately die for his wickedness (Hilchot Teshuvah 3:1-2).

We thus have a question against Rambam. Surely we see many people with many more sins than merits, yet they do not die immediately.

Obviously, Rambam was aware of this question and he answered it in advance: It is not we who appraise the value of each mitzvah. Neither are we talking about a mere numerical calculation. Rather, there may very well be one Mitzvah that is worth thousands of other Mitzvot, “Only the Master of Opinions knows how the comparison between sins and merits is made” (ibid.).

You, my dear friend, have a great many merits. Truly a great many.

How lucky you are! Every Mitzvah you perform and all of your Torah learning involve great toil. Surely, in the Supreme World, the World of Truth, there will be surprises…People who are considered important here will be considered worthless there, and people who are derided here will be highly important there. “The elevated ones will be down low, and the low down ones will be up high” (Pesachim 50a).

You, my friend, will be very important there. The main thing is there and not here. This world is a mere crumb, a minute spark of eternity. Moreover, this great and bright future is not just in the future, but in the present as well. The millions of fluorescent bulbs in the banquet hall light up the waiting room as well.

Do your best, and be aware that you are precious in G-d’s sight.