Updated: Sep 8, 2020
We are certainly going through very strange times, if not
downright scary. Each and everyone of us has been affected by the
Corona pandemic, one way or another.
It’s not that we can’t simply pinpoint the problem precisely,
because there’s so many wrong things going on in the world that we
are left without knowing what to do. There’s something going on for
sure, we know that the Geulah is almost here for a fact.
Yet, the process is truly painful for pretty much every good
person in the world. When things get tough and we are drowning in
suffering, how can one continue moving forward? That’s the most
important question to answer.
Despair according to Kabbalah
In the Tree of Life array, there are two Sephirot which are often
interchangeable. These are the Keter (Crown) and the Da’at
(Consciousness), and generally when one is counted, the other one
isn’t so that the total count keeps to 10. They both are located in the
middle column and are related to consciousness and choice.
Rabbi Tzadok HaKohen of Lublin explains their difference in a
wonderful way. Da’at is our normal mode of consciousness. It’s freely
accessible though many people live in “automated” mode. In
psychology it’s often called “mindfulness”, and in it is also included
the ability to explain something immediately, the power of choice,
connection, compassion and self-nullification. When a person enters
the state of Da’at, there’s a feeling of happiness, of returning to one’s
true self and a lot of healing can be achieved here. This state can still
be difficult to reach but is doable.
However, Keter is the inner strength a person gets during
pressing situations. Most os us probably heard the story of the
woman who saw her baby stuck underneath a car and lifted it up in a
superhuman show of strength. When facing despair, we can access
huge reservoirs of strength to beat almost any challenge. The same is
true when a person is on the verge of death or chasing something
with incredible value. When a person reaches the level of Keter, all
his will is united into a single focal point so that there’s no space for
doubt and very few things can stop him.
There’s one fascinating Chiddush based on despair from the
Meshech Chokhmah. In the Laws of Kings from Rambam’s Mishneh
Torah and many other poskim, we find that, when waging war, it’s
forbidden to encircle an enemy completely. This is actually a Mitzvah
from the Torah, and many poskim write that the reason is because
we want to be merciful to those who wish to run away. Even if they
are our enemies.
However, the Meshech Chokhmah states that we don’t want to
put the enemy in a position of despair. Were they to be completely
encircled, they’d reach the level of Keter and receive enormous
amount of strength to fight back! With a path free to run away, we
force them the indecision to fight or flee, and therefore can easily
But, how can we access this state without actually being on
such dangerous situations?
There’s no straight answer but only through progressive
efforts in Avodat Hashem such as prayer can a person slowly unlock
his full potential. Training in self-awareness and emotional health
can bring us closer to the point where we can ignite our soul in
situations of need. And this is the power that emotions can bring.
The prayer of Tzaddikim
We find that many prayers by Tzaddikim were often uttered in
despair, and succeeded in achieving their goals. Their Tefillot were
supercharged with emotions, often negative ones, but they achieved
in reaching their goals.
Perhaps the most telling example is Chana. As the sages say,
she was even willing to be branded a Sotah (suspicious woman) by
secluding herself with another man and drinking the Mayim
HaMarim (bitter waters) in order to “force” Hashem to bless her with
children. That was a very daring bet, but one that worked
Moshe Rabbenu’s daring plead of “if you don’t forgive them,
erase me please from your book” also says much about how to use
despair for positive ends. The same goes for Sarah’s order to
Avraham of banishing Yishmael from her home.
We see then that, when praying, one needs to have strength in
the voice. This is the basis of many Chassidic teachings and customs.
It’s written in Tzava’at HaRivash (the testament of the Ba’al Shem
Tov) that one should put all his force in each of the words of prayer.
Through this a person can absorb the power contained in them and
be reinvigorated. Not only that, but the prayer itself has much more
chance of rising up to where it needs to go.
While converting darkness into light might well be one of the
most difficult feats in each person’s life, we should nevertheless see
this as an incredible opportunity. After all, it’s only we look into
things from perspective of “Keter”, that we can surpass the most
This article was written and published in the zechut of all Emuna Builder Partners. May they have complete emuna and continue spreading emuna!