7/8 January 2022, 5/6 Shevat 5782

Thoughts for Mental Health Shabbat 2022

The composer Tchaikovsky in 1876 wrote these words to a beloved nephew.

Probably you were not quite well, my little dove, when you wrote to me, for a note of real melancholy pervaded your letter. I recognised in it a nature closely akin to my own. I know the feeling only too well. In my life, too, there are days, hours, weeks, aye, and months, in which everything looks black, when I am tormented by the thought that I am forsaken, that no one cares for me. Indeed, my life is of little worth to anyone.

He could have been referring to the plague of darkness in this week’s Parashat Bo. So keenly does he identify the blackness of depression and melancholy. Torah describes this darkness as palpable.

[so] thick [that ] people could not see one another, and for three days no one could get up from where he was. 

One can feel the heaviness and de-pressing nature of this ‘darkness’ that the poet Jane Kenyon described so memorably, pressing the bile of desolation into every pore.

Darkness may have been just another of the ten plagues but it’s possible meaning and resonance reaches out of Torah to us now. To our young people struggling through Covid, to each of us weighed down by the isolation of mental fragility of all kinds; anxiety, depression, confusion and alienation from the life we are ‘expected’ to lead with ease.

Such dislocation resonates profoundly this year after the months we’ve endured and the continuing challenges that are still so real.

Our synagogue is focusing on empathy this Shabbat, on the power of empathetic concern and connection, of meeting people truly where they are. This is a skill we can all develop. We are also working with Barnet Citizens (CUK) clear requests for our Borough’s Mental Health provisions to ensure both more and better empathy in all such services in Barnet. From better sign posting to someone there when you need it.

We all need and can give empathy; ready to be present for when, as Exodus 10 describes; no one can get up from where they were.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Rebecca