Descent Into the Ice Cream Tub

This is a guest column by Rabbi Da-vid Rosenthal, from Aish Minnesota.
Tiger Woods has an addiction.
Well, at least that’s the theory.
I am pretty certain however, that this addiction didn’t happen overnight. It wasn’t like one day he woke up and was suddenly obsessed. These things tend to creep up on you. For example, one cigarette leads to another, and another etc until one day you find yourself somewhere you never thought possible. These are the tactics used by the Yetzer Hara (evil inclination). His goal is total domination, but he generally goes about it in stages. Does the phrase “Just one more piece of chocolate” sound familiar? He never tells you to eat the whole thing, just one piece at a time until it’s all finished.
So how are we meant to understand this past week’s parsha, where the Jewish People went from receiving the 10 commandments from G-d, to 40 days later worshipping the golden calf? That’s the equivalent of someone on a diet suddenly deciding to eat 20 double burgers in one sitting. That kind of thing doesn’t happen so quickly; it takes time to wear down the persons defenses, lead them down the wayward path. How did the Yetzer Hara lead the Jewish People astray so quickly?
According to the Midrash, the Jewish People were shown an image of Moses having died. Their leader who had taken them out of Egypt and split the sea, and brought them the miraculous Mannah-food was gone. They went into a state of depression.
And that’s when the Yetzer got them.
To succeed in life we need many things. One of the most important elements is our emotional energy. A depressed person can’t handle many challenges. Its hard enough just to get out of bed when you’re depressed, let alone function normally. Sad people are more prone to succumb to the whims of their Yetzer – they have less energy to fight it with. Just think about the cliché version of someone getting dumped. What do they reach for first? The ice cream tub.
And then every other vice that they are usually battling to avoid – cigarettes, junk food, etc. When we are depressed, the battlefield changes dramatically. We no longer maintain the struggles that we fight so valiantly for on a daily basis – we drop to a much lower standard. Sometimes lower than ever before.
And this happens almost instantaneously – it is not a gradual process.
That is the story of the Jewish People. They lost all ability to battle their baser desires. They fell from their “spiritual mountain,” into the chasm of sin.
The lesson for ourselves is to take care of our level of happiness. A happy person can take on the world. A happy person can do what they know is right.
Conversely, we need to be aware that when we do get sad or depressed – which will inevitably happen sometimes – to avoid major descents into the abyss. The more aware we are of the techniques of the Yetzer, the better prepared we are to fight them. Call up a friend, ask them to come help you while you’re in a down patch. Put on a fake smile – it’ll do wonders for you. Go for a run. But avoid the dangerous pitfalls that lie in the plunge into sadness. At the very least, don’t drop too far and say or do things you’ll forever regret.
May we all stay happy, and continue to grow.