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    Some people dread
    Pesach preparation
    time, but not for the
    reason you think. As
    challenging as it can be
    to search for and
    eliminate chametz,
    chametz isn’t rude, it isn’t insensitive, and it
    doesn’t hurt feelings. People, on the other
    hand, often unintentionally, are or do all
    three. In conversations, around Shabbos
    tables, and even from the pulpit, we casually
    describe ourselves or the atmosphere
    surrounding Pesach as an “OCD holiday” or
    refer to “neurotic” people preparing for
    Pesach. Of course, nobody means harm
    when using these descriptions and only
    intend on highlighting the intensity and
    attention to detail necessary in Pesach
    Yet, I have come to learn that such casual
    and careless use of language can, even
    unintentionally, be hurtful and harmful to
    people navigating clinical OCD and neurosis.
    Describing the annual process of cleaning
    and koshering for Pesach as “OCD”
    diminishes what that diagnosis really means

    and minimizes the challenge of navigating
    and living with it. It can cause those already
    feeling on the outskirts as even more not
    understood or supported.
    I recently wrote about the dangers of safe
    spaces and taking personal responsibility for
    if we allow other’s words to hurt us. But
    make no mistake, that doesn’t absolve us of
    our obligation to use our words sensitively,
    to be careful how we speak and the language
    and terms that we use.
    Don’t use terms or expressions like “I’m so
    OCD,” “I’m depressed,” or “I have anxiety”
    flippantly or glibly. These words have real
    meaning and when we use them out of
    context or apply them inappropriately, we
    diminish them and rob the people they apply
    to of language that captures their story.
    As mental health challenges have
    proliferated, we have an even greater
    responsibility to be sensitive, supportive,
    and steadfast in removing stigma surrounding
    these issues. Depression, anxiety, or OCD
    are no more the fault of the person suffering
    with it than cancer or Alzheimer’s are the
    fault of someone suffering with one of those
    conditions. Just as the patient with cancer

    cannot simply will his or her cancer away
    and the individual with Alzheimer’s cannot
    simply choose to stop forgetting, the person
    with depression cannot just “decide” to not
    feel anxious, worthless, or exhausted, the
    person with OCD cannot simply choose to
    stop having obsessive thoughts or behaviors.
    Having a physical illness can be awkward,
    but should not be a source of embarrassment
    or guilt. Similarly, having OCD, depression
    or anxiety are equally out of one’s control,
    and should not be a source of shame or
    In the winter of 1902-1903, Rav Shalom
    Dov-Ber Schneerson, the 5th Lubavitcher
    Rebbe, known affectionally by the acronym
    Rashab, travelled from Lubavitch White
    Russia to Vienna to consult with the famous
    Professor Sigmund Freud. He was
    accompanied by his son, Rav Yosef Yitzchak
    Schneerson (who later became the 6th
    Rebbe), who then told the story of these
    encounters to his son-in-law, Rav Menachem
    Mendel Schneerson, the last Lubavitcher
    Rebbe. The Rebbe transcribed it and once
    shared it at a public gathering in 1962.
    The Rashab was forty-two years old at the
    time and was struggling with depression.
    Rav YY Jacobson describes that the
    Rebbe told Freud after years of working
    on himself, he hadn’t been successful,
    “not one faculty have I refined, not one
    idea is really clear in my mind.” He had
    feelings of inadequacy, particularly in
    comparison to his ancestors. The Rebbe
    was in Vienna for more than three
    months and met with Freud several
    times. While we know the Rebbe had an
    impact and influence on Freud, it is also
    reported that the Rebbe embraced
    Freud’s treatment and support.
    Recently, Artscroll published “Rav
    Chaim: The Life and Legacy of the Sar
    HaTorah,” by Rabbi Naftali Weinberger.
    An article in Mishpacha Magazine
    covering the book and its author noted a
    significant inclusion in both the new
    book and the author’s previous biography
    of Rebbetzin Kanievsky:
    “Gadol biographies” sometime get a
    bad rap for portraying the subjects as
    infallible, perfect human beings, but
    Rabbi Weinberger took the reality route
    instead. In one section, he relates how
    Rebbetzin Batsheva heeded the advice of
    her physician and took Valium to calm
    her anxiety when the tragedies of her
    many visitors and petitioners became too
    much for her sensitive soul to bear. For
    Rabbi Weinberger, was there a level of


    “The story about the Rebbetzin taking anti-
    anxiety medication actually appeared in her

    biography,” says Rabbi Weinberger. “The
    backdrop for that was an interview I
    conducted with her daughter and son-in-law,
    Rav Zelig and Rebbetzin Bracha Braverman.
    They told me how the Rebbetzin was very
    proud of her personal example when she
    occasionally needed the meds — it was an
    encouragement for others who were told by
    their own physicians to take medication.
    “After that interview, I discussed it further
    with several other Kanievsky children who
    told me I should publish it, that the Rebbetzin
    would surely have wanted it published. And
    baruch Hashem, there’s been very nice
    feedback from this — from therapists, and
    also from people who told me they
    themselves became more compliant about
    taking necessary meds after knowing that
    Rebbetzin Kanievsky also took medication.”
    These great people and others weren’t
    ashamed to get support and neither should
    anyone else be.
    The Arizal saw the connection between
    speech and freedom in the very name of the
    upcoming Yom Tov. Pesach, he explained,
    comes from “Peh – sach” – “a mouth
    converses.” Part of affirming our freedom
    on Pesach is affirming the awesome
    responsibility that comes with freedom of
    Rav Kook (Orot HaKodesh vol. III, p. 285)
    writes: “As the soul is elevated, we become
    acutely aware of the tremendous power that
    lies in our faculty of speech. We recognize
    clearly the tremendous significance of each
    utterance; the value of our prayers and
    blessings, the value of our Torah study and
    of all of our discourse. We learn to perceive
    the overall impact of speech. We sense the
    change and great stirring of the world that
    comes about through speech.”
    Pre-Pesach is a time to be more careful, not
    callous. Let’s clean out not only our homes
    of chametz but also our vocabulary and
    lexicon of language which harms or hurts
    and bring the redemption one step closer.