Golda Meir contemplated suicide in the opening days of the Yom Kippur War. Yitzhak Rabin suffered a breakdown, shortly before the Six-Day War. Menachem Begin retired as Prime Minister midterm, exclaiming, אינני יכול יותר “I can’t take this anymore.” And Winston Churchill, the greatest statesman humanity had known in the 20th century, suffered from recurrent waves of depression which he called his “black dogs.”
Everybody has a breaking point, even the greatest and the finest amongst us, whose lives seem perpetually radiant and glorious to the undiscerning outsider, even such glowing individuals know all-too-well the crushing and bitter taste of downfall and despair. We are all, in Nietzsche’s words “human all too human.”
In our parashah Moses suffers a breakdown, and beseeches Hashem הרגני נא הרוג, which means “Kill me and I shall be killed.” Even the great Moses was not spared what a Christian mystic once called “the dark night of the soul.”
Kabbalah teaches us that the world was created due to a cosmic breakdown known as “the breaking of the vessels.” Throughout my life, I was privileged to know and love and admire people who lost their spouses and children in the Holocaust.
I have seen and heard people who were buried alive in mass graves in the dark forests of Europe, and miraculously rose up from their own graves after sunset, only partially and non-fatally wounded from the Nazi bullets, and moved on, determined to resurrect their lives. Such people remind us, in the words of Shimon Peres, that “there are no desperate situations, there are only desperate people.”
Our survivors kept on going, after they lost everything and everyone, because they knew that there were still contributions to be made, goodness to be proliferated, hope to be harvested, life to be conceived and celebrated. In the dying words of the German poet Goethe, our survivors knew that this tormented and sublime world of ours is in dire need of “more light, more light.”
Whatever you’re going through right now, in the middle of this road you call your life, remember this and learn from our survivors, our ultimate life teachers. Whatever curve ball life is currently throwing at you, whether you’re currently up or down in the game of life, take to heart Churchill’s existential message, which he formulated between one major depressive episode and another: “Success is not final, and failure is not fatal. It is the ability to continue that matters.”
We are the people who rose up from genocidal ashes seven decades ago and proclaimed in the words of King David לא אמות כי אחיה ואספר מעשי י-ה, – “I shall not die, I shall live.” And like Moses, we will also pick ourselves up as private individuals, and cherish and realize the opening verb of the Shulchan Aruch, “יתגבר”‘, which means: “Shall overcome.”