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Surviving a Spiritual Recession

May 8, 2009 | by Rabbi Boruch Leff

How to get through life's ups and downs.

Everyone is concerned about the global financial slow-down, seeking advice on how to survive it. Businesses are frantically trying to figure out ways to cut back and weather the financial storm. The same is true for family finances. No one can escape the fall-out of the recession and we all need to ready ourselves in preparation for survival

According to the Jewish mystics, there exists a spiritual recession out there too. And no one can escape it.

One of the best kept spiritual secrets is that our spiritual stock shares can never go perpetually up. We are designed to experience ups and downs in our levels of enthusiasm and joy.

In fact, Kabbalists tell us that it is quite normal to experience days called "yemai sinah" -- days of hate.

Yes, you read that correctly.

We all experience great times called aliyah, when our spiritual Wall Street is soaring. Our Dow Jones mitzvah output sets record highs. We are super excited and energized with our spiritual growth. We want to learn, pray, do for others -- the whole holy gamut.

But we also experience periods called yeridah, a spiritual downturn and recession, when we "just aren't into it" and drag our feet spiritually.

We need not worry when this occurs. It's part of the normative cycle. As human beings, we need constant and regular energy to maintain any type of venture that we have begun. When was the last time you met someone who stayed on a diet for more than two months, if that long? We shouldn't feel bad about ourselves that we have this tendency; God created us this way.

All things fresh eventually become stale.

Mystics explain that all things fresh eventually become stale. At the beginning of any new venture, God gives us an extra energy boost and inspires us ‘artificially.' But this initial burst of inspiration eventually fades so we can acquire a deep and lasting connection to something. The danger at this juncture is depression and a loss of hope and striving. But the challenge is to fight to bring back the inspiration, and in doing so, we build it permanently into our character.

So spiritual recessions are a necessary part of true growth. And they're never fun. How do we survive them?

The trick is not to fall into the trap of despair. The instinctive tendency is to feel like "we failed again" and beat ourselves up, telling ourselves that we might as well give up on high hopes for spiritual greatness.

This is where we make our colossal mistake.

The key for long lasting spiritual growth is to recognize and accept the fact of life that there are going to be days when we love what we're doing, and days when we just aren't in the mood, days of hate – "yemai sinah." The goal is to try to maximize the days of love, to maintain them for as long as possible, and to reduce the days of hate.

No one is immune to a spiritual recession. It will happen at some point. The only healthy way out of it is to make sure we don't lose hope. We must not give up.

We shouldn't stop whatever growth we are working on. We should go easy on ourselves, lightening the load, but all the while holding on to some aspect of what we were doing. If we had resolved to study Torah for 30 minutes a day and we find ourselves in a rut, unable to muster the energy to accomplish it, then we should still learn, but intentionally less than our original goal. Take it easy so we can avoid the ‘crash and burn' syndrome, where all of our spiritual goals will be lost.

Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin put it his way:

"A person is constantly going up and down. When he's down, he feels as if whatever he does and has done in spirituality was without a full heart, and he's not accomplishing anything by doing it. He wants to rest and sleep deeply until the time of passion returns... But a person must maintain some aspect of what he was doing, even when feeling spiritually weak. If he gives up his area of growth entirely (until he feels the passion again), he'll distance himself further..."

If we handle ourselves properly during these days of spiritual recession, we stand a chance to get back to our grander goals that we set for ourselves when the days of love and passion return.

And have no fear -- they will eventually return.


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