Mental Health Awareness Shabbat

In Parshat Bo, Moshe comes to Pharaoh and warns him (Ex.11:6-7), “There will be a great cry throughout the entire land of Egypt, the likes of which never was, and the likes of which will never be again. But as for the Children of Israel, no dog (kelev) will bark (yecheratz leshono) at any man or beast, so that you will know that G-d has distinguished between Egypt and Israel.”

Rabbi Yitzchok of Vorki points out the connection between the word ‘yecheratz’ and the word ‘charitz’, meaning a ‘crack’. The word ‘kelev’ means dog, but it could also be translated as ‘like the heart.’ One of the ideas associated with the Exodus is ‘lo shinu et leshonam’ – the Israelites did not change their language. Rabbi Yitzchok explains that it does not mean they spoke only Hebrew. It means that they did not have a ‘crack’ between their ‘lashon’, the way they spoke, and their lev, heart. What you would see is what you would get. Their mouths and hearts were aligned.

Whilst it is all well and good for most people to aspire to aligning their mouths and hearts, this Shabbat we think about members of our community suffering from mental health concerns. Some are manageable, other conditions are extremely serious and require constant medical, social, and familial care and attention. Things might appear to be fine from the outside – the way they are talking (lashon), but their hearts/minds and mouths are not aligned. Inside, they are suffering terrible anguish and pain.

It’s really challenging to maintain the proper and necessary sensitivity towards someone who is able to keep up external appearances, because we assume they’ve ‘resolved’ their mental health concerns. But mental health is not like breaking a leg, which can be mended and the problem goes away. Many people dealing with mental health are able to attain temporary healing, but the challenges never truly go away. They can be managed, but symptoms may become exacerbated without warning.

Our hearts go out to all those who are struggling with personal mental health issues, as well as all those family members supporting their suffering loved ones, themselves in unimaginable pain as they feel helpless in the face of often daily crises. May Hashem show mercy and compassion to all who are dealing with such terrifying challenges, and to those individuals and their families whose struggles have overpowered them. May we always be there for one another and may we look forward to the day when (Isa.25:8) “Hashem will wipe the tears off all faces and remove the stigma of His people from upon all Earth.” Amen.

About the Author
Rabbanit Batya Friedman is the senior rebbetzin of Hamsptead Suburb Garden Synagogue in London, UK. She was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY. She received her Bachelor of Science in Mathematics from Brooklyn College and her MBA from the University of Alberta. She previously served the community in Edmonton, AB Canada.
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