This week’s parsha, Bo, coincides with Mental Health Awareness Shabbat.
Previously, people have likened the plague of darkness that is described in this week’s portion to the dark experience of mental illness.
While Egypt was experiencing the ancient equivalent of a three-day power cut, the Midrash says the Israelites, who were able to see, were instructed to search the Egyptians’ homes to see where they kept
When they were redeemed and asked for remuneration from the Egyptians for centuries of slave labour, the Egyptians would inevitably deny they had any wealth.
However, the Israelites would know exactly what they owned and where they kept it, because they had seen it during the plague of darkness.
Those who saw the plagues were at least the third generation of slaves. Nobody in their living memory had ever experienced freedom.
As the plagues began, the Jews started to trust in their salvation, but imagine when it came to the ninth plague and they were still not free.
They must have wondered whether the plagues were going to last forever. Yet during this darkest moment, the Jews were instructed to perform an activity of hope: they were asked to prepare for when they could demand payment from their oppressors.
Surrounded by darkness, they were instructed not to give up and to keep alive the flame of their hope.
As a therapist for young people and their families, every week I see young people on their journey through darkness and try to help them find the hope that, one day, things will seem brighter and the darkness will pass.
If my clients can recognise even a tiny flicker of hope then, together, we trap that flame and fan it, and pray it can grow into a beautiful light again.
For people struggling with mental health difficulties and for their families, we all pray that, like the Israelites, they are able to keep the hope of salvation alive.
- Chana Hughes is the Rebbetzin of Radlett United Synagogue and is a therapist