Some days, for no apparent reason, I’m just in a rotten mood. I wake up grumpy and I travel downhill rapidly from there. Could be lack of sleep, or maybe some subconscious worries are getting me down. Don’t really know and it’s not much of an excuse anyway. I just stomp around growling like a mangy bear, grunting and gesticulating and inspiring fear and loathing in all I cross.
Other days are entirely different. I’m bright and airy; not a care in the world nor a cloud on the horizon. I smile at old ladies and buy candy for babies. My children know that now’s the time to ask me for favours and I’m a sucker for any beggar with a hard luck story.
How can any one person sport such extravagantly differing character traits? It’s as if I’ve got multiple personality syndrome with no way of knowing which persona will present next. I’m as fickle as the weather and shape-shift my emotions with the consistency of a chameleon.
The truth is that we all exhibit differing tendencies on different occasions. Life is complex and we’re all just works in progress.
Sometimes things just seem to go so easy, we’re doing the right thing and making the right decisions. We feel spiritually accomplished and satisfied with our virtue. Other times, we feel emotionally drained and give in too quickly to temptation. We’re stuck in a rut and our wheels are just spinning in the quicksand of life. We’re going the wrong way down a dead end road, with no obvious escape route in sight. It would be so easy to just surrender all hope and throw in the towel of despair.
I don’t really know the triggers for my mood swings and most of us are not sufficiently self aware to avoid in advance the sins and struggles that beset. We make mistakes without meaning to and happen to do the right thing just by happy chance. G-d created us with an inherent mechanism for instability and the swings and roundabouts of living are just part of the insecurity that comes along with the human condition.
However the single biggest mistake one could make would be to surrender to depression when in a low period of life, because that way lies just stupidity and sloth. Remember, your mood could well change in an instant and within seconds you might be happy and productive again. But if you give up while stuck in a trough you may never be able to climb out.
And that’s when we remember the lesson of this week. A few days ago was Tisha B’Av, the saddest day of the Jewish calendar. This Monday is Tu B’Av, described as “the most festive day in Israel,” a time traditionally devoted to matchmaking and outdoor revels. How can our calendar swing so widely from depression to joy, from destruction to renewal?
We can because we have to. The darkness of Tisha B’Av is supplanted just 6 days later by the happiest time of the year. We’ve learnt to dance at a simcha just hours after dusting ourselves off from a tragedy. It’s not insensitive, it’s part of life. In fact it’s precisely because we’ve survived the inevitable darker times that we can truly appreciate the happiness that lies ahead. By overcoming adversity we qualify for joy and by riding out the rough moments we justify our chance to ski the easy slopes for a while.
Only one who has tasted sin can truly appreciate faithfulness. Only someone who has struggled with anger can know the sweetness that comes with serenity. We shouldn’t go out looking for problems to overcome or temptations to surmount, but if and when Hashem sends us a challenge we should accept it as our opportunity to submit to Him.
I have to work on my mood swings and try my hardest not to burden anyone else with my melancholy. We’ve got to aspire to virtue and never justify our occasional deviations from the true path. But even when we do slip up and act miserably we have to keep on trying to recover our lost spirits and clear consciences. We shall overcome because we must and when we come in from the dark side we can rejoice in the knowledge that the good times are all the sweeter for having survived the trip to get here.