We have already explained that there is no such thing as despair at all in the world. Even when a person sees himself as being very far from Hashem, he can still revitalize himself with this itself, that he knows his distance. It’s possible that he could have been so far that he wouldn’t have even realized it. This, that he at least knows how far he has fallen, is very treasured by Hashem, even if he actually has fallen. And so, it is appropriate to rejuvenate himself with this awareness, and with it to find encouragement and strength to continue doing whatever he can still do in Avodas Hashem.
Meshivas Nefesh 40, based on Likutei Moharan II 68
There is No Such Thing as Despair
“There is no such thing as despair in the world” – sometimes it seems as if this cry which emerged from the Rebbe’s mouth was intended for heartbroken and miserable people who are fed up with their lives. But the truth is that despair takes hold of almost everybody. ‘Despair’ could mean a cooling down in Avodas Hashem, which a person has from seeing how his Torah study, prayers, and other Mitzvos don’t have any vitality to them. It might also be seeing how since he’s failed so many times to conduct himself in holiness, in his eating or in other matters, he abandons working on those things and he begins to perceive materialism as totally fine.
Even though he recognizes and admits to the importance of Avodas Hashem and the severity of sin, in practicality he’s given up on continuing to persevere. This is what is meant by despair – when it seems as if it’s impossible to connect to Hashem while unsuccessful in Avodah.
Why does a person cool off from his goals in Avodas Hashem? The reason why is because it’s difficult for a person to live with a deficiency and to admit to it. The lack obligates him in his life, and that breaks his spirit. To deal with these feelings, the Rebbe reveals the following awesome advice: One should know that just this, that he knows about his deficiencies and his distance from Hashem, with this alone he can already revitalize himself and find happiness, since at least he doesn’t allow himself to live in hiding from Hashem.
Therefore, the main toil of the Tzaddikim is to introduce new ways of thinking into a person’s mind, in order that he should know what Hashem really wants from him. Even if a person sees that it’s impossible that he should ever reach certain levels, still, “There is no such thing as despair at all in the world.” Don’t become cold, and don’t raise your hands in defeat, even if you see that you are failing and unsuccessful. There is an immense difference between somebody that already doesn’t want to enter into the ways of holiness, to someone who lives with the truth even if he sees that he is far from it.
When a person accepts the teachings of the Tzaddikim into his heart, on one hand he acquires the ability to see where he is really holding, and on the other hand, he reprimands himself properly when needed, by being very careful not to fall into unhappiness. He knows how to view his existence through other lenses.
With this he can connect to Hashem even in the midst of failure. He can be strong to start doing whatever he still can, to grab a few good deeds and to keep away from sin as much as he can, with the recognition that he is close to Hashem even if in truth he knows how far he still is.
Somebody who doesn’t actually try to climb from his fall, and allows himself to fall into despair and “coolness” in his Avodas Hashem, won’t understand the advice being offered here. What does it help him to know if he’s far from Hashem? But someone who tries to wage a battle feels what a powerful, essential message is contained within this advice. It reveals to us an incredibly deep insight as to how a person can bring himself to happiness specifically from being distant, by viewing the situation differently, and thereby being motivated to battle further.
Being sensible enough to make oneself joyous and know that he’s close to Hashem through knowing his distance and not denying it, in itself will give him the strength to break through all the curtains and enter the gates of Kedushah. He doesn’t become distant as a result of the fall; on the contrary, he starts to feel closer to Hashem with this new way of viewing his situation.