Here we stand at the eve of another Rosh Hashanah - Jewish New Year - and the introspection to which we are called by God leads me back to recollections of equal measures of elation and grief. Such is this memory:
When I was in the throes of my deepest depression, I would lie in my bed and watch reruns of "Rhoda" at 2 in the afternoon. If you know about clinical depression, we lie in bed not because we want to, but because life, as we perceive it, has left us no option.
Out of its depths, though, I took a nanosecond of faith to spend a weekend in Brooklyn, with a Chasidic friend who was an adherent of the Grand Rebbe of Lubavitch. There would be no pressure. We would stay with his parents. His father, serendipitously, was private secretary to the Rebbe. If nothing else, it would be an insight into an arcane world, surrounded by empathic people.
The Rebbe was imputed by his disciples to have supernatural powers, and to be granted an audience was regarded a metaphysical encounter. My friend's father arranged such an encounter for me. It would take mere moments and its primary gift would be the Rebbe's blessing, which, he assured me, contained influence above.
Never miss a local story.
Whether or not you are a believer, the Rebbe radiated an aura of ethereal sunlight. But, apparently he stopped short of a blessing for me, at least in so many words. Instead, he stroked my arm, peered through crystalline eyes, and spoke to me softly: "You should teach."
Upon my departure, my friend's father asked almost accusatorily, "So what did the Rebbe tell you?"
"He said I should teach."
"Did he bless you?"
"I'm not sure."
"Listen, he blessed you. So when will you start to teach?"
I hemmed and hawed: I had no students. I had no way of getting any. I had no space. I had no energy.
"The Rebbe said you should teach!" His voice was now bellicose. He is asking me to buy into blind faith, I thought. The Rebbe communed with God. The Rebbe knew the antidote, whatever it was to be.
"What? Where? Whom?"
"The Rebbe said you should teach! Even if it's one person in your bedroom! Go teach Talmud! You have a good kop (head)!"
"OK, I'll try."
"Don't try! The Rebbe said you should teach!"
The conclusion to the story is eerily supernatural: At Sabbath's end, my voicemail held a message from a rabbinical colleague from whom I hadn't heard in ages. Just popped up out of the ether. "Please call me as soon as you can," he said.
Anxious, I returned the call.
"My congregation is starting an adult education program, and the committee and I want to know if you'd like to teach. We're thinking Talmud, since you have such a good kop."
Ya gotta be kidding, I thought. This was not smoke-and-mirrors. This was the real thing. I'd had the metaphysical encounter with a man connected by his holiness. He told me to teach, and poof, in spite of my self, I'm teaching
Whether or not you believe in miracles, what happened in Brooklyn had at its core the message that most restores the human soul: To be healthy, we must turn our energies outward. Nothing is more uplifting to the mind, heart and spirit than to give something precious of ourselves to others who need it - to reach out with wisdom, wherewithal, energy, compassion, empathy . . . in a word, to "teach." And nothing is more devastating to the spirit than to implode all our energies into one's self and preoccupations.
Good meds and psychotherapy have helped greatly. No more, though, than the pivotal moment when I listened to Rebbe, threw depression to the wind for the quickest second, started to teach, and thereby began relearning the patterns of giving, not subsisting.
Now we celebrate a new year - a time we believe is the "Birthday of the World," particularly the human species. For all of us, then, an occasion of rebirth, renewal. If only we could take our lives so far as to get out of bed, shut off "Rhoda," and reach outward, our deadly, depressing isolation would heal, and this would become a truly blessed new year for all of creation. Now, go teach!