19/20 January 2024, 10 Sh’vat 5784

Depression – the thick black paste of it, the muck of bleakness — .… Daphne Merkin

Darkness was the ninth plague inflicted upon the Egyptians

“So Moses stretched forth his hand toward the heavens, and there was thick darkness over the entire land of Egypt for three days. They did not see each other, and no one rose from his place for three days….”(Exodus 10:22-23)

Rashi explains and amplifies this image.  If a person was sitting, they were unable to stand, and if standing, they were unable to sit.

Darkness has long been associated with depression and mental torment. This verse invites us to imagine it. We know very well that mental suffering can be as pernicious and cruel as physical illness. Anxiety and fear can paralyse and worse. Such a thick darkness as Torah describes is palpably real and it doesn’t take much empathy to imagine the paralysis. Many of us know people for whom this struggle in contemporary times is quite literally too much to bear.

This Shabbat reminds us not to look away from such suffering, which is why several years ago, the Jewish Association for Mental Illness chose this Shabbat for Mental Health awareness. It gives us a moment to reflect on the torture of such darkness as well as on the heaviness of inertia that sometimes prevents those who suffer from mental illness from seeking help. JAMI taught us in the community that mental health is a spectrum and we can all find ourselves somewhere on it – and that changes at moments in our lives. The plague of darkness leaps from Torah to our own understanding of mental anguish of all kinds. I am grateful not just for JAMI but for all agencies and individuals who understand the fragility of the soul.

Shabbat Shalom