I have heard the following story, where the "sage" in question was the Lubavitcher Rebbe, and am trying to track down a more authoritative source. So far the only written reference I have been able to find is on Rabbi Sacks's website, who doesn't provide identification:

Many years ago I heard a wonderful story about a great Jewish sage. Someone had written him a letter on the following lines. “I am in a state of deep depression. I wake up each morning dreading the day ahead. I find that nothing lifts the clouds of gloom. I try various distractions but nothing seems to work. I pray, but inspiration does not come. I need the rabbi’s help and advice.”

The rabbi sent him a brilliant reply without using a single word. He simply circled the first word of each sentence of the letter and sent it back. The word was “I.”

The True Path to Inner Happiness

Is there a source for this story? If it was a letter from the Lubavticher Rebbe, is there a copy of the letter in question?

  • 3
    Don't know if this is what you are looking for but there is a letter from the Stiepler in Kreina Digrsa where (among other things )he tells someone who is depressed that your letter is full of the word "I" and that is part of your problem
    – Schmerel
    May 23, 2021 at 4:15

1 Answer 1


In one of his weekly essays, Rabbi Sacks says he heard the story about the Rebbe:

In 1968 I met the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn, of blessed memory, for the first time. While I was there, the Chassidim told me the following story. A man had written to the Rebbe in roughly these terms: “I am depressed. I am lonely. I feel that life is meaningless. I try to pray, but the words do not come. I keep mitzvot but find no peace of mind. I need the Rebbe’s help.” The Rebbe sent a brilliant reply without using a single word. He simply circled the first word of every sentence and sent the letter back. The word in each case was “I.”

It's hard to know how accurate the story is, but it was characteristic of the Rebbe to respond to a question by highlighting or modifying parts of it, and the response is somewhat in line with his approach of dealing with negative feelings by focusing less on yourself and more on others:

One does so by ceasing to think such [black] thoughts. If one cannot achieve this; [i.e., he finds it impossible to simply stop thinking negative thoughts], then one can accomplish this by not thinking about oneself but about G‑d — how He is the Essence of Goodness, etc.

Make an effort to minimize, as much as possible, thoughts such as, “What am I feeling?”; “Am I afraid of someone,” and so on.

Replace these thoughts with profound contemplation as to how you can assist and see to the needs of your neighbors or your relatives sheyichyu. Surely you will find many such matters [where you can be of benefit].

  • 3
    Welcome to MiYodeya shmosel and thanks for this first answer. Great to have you learn with us!
    – mbloch
    May 21, 2021 at 8:54
  • @shmosel Gevaltig!
    – The GRAPKE
    May 21, 2021 at 9:26

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