Sedra of the week: Bo and Mental Health Awareness Shabbat

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Sedra of the week: Bo and Mental Health Awareness Shabbat

Rabbi Daniel Friedman looks ahead to the forthcoming portion of Torah, and the focus on wellbeing this weekend

When the Israelites left Egypt, only one fifth of the nation departed. What happened to the rest? They weren’t ready to be freed from slavery and perished under the veil of the darkness that enveloped Egypt. They were buried hastily by their brethren, lest the Egyptians suggest the plagues had struck indiscriminately – Egyptian and Hebrew alike. 

In contrast with the original Exodus, the Kabbalists teach that on the final redemption, none will be left behind. What’s the difference between the Exodus and the messianic era?  

In Egypt, we looked at our undecided brethren and wondered how anyone could be so overtaken by their slave mentality that they would be unwilling to embrace freedom. “Why can’t they get their act together?” we thought. “They should just pick themselves up and get a move on!” We blamed them for their indecisiveness and were happy to forsake them.  

But perhaps the problem wasn’t them, it was us. Maybe we misunderstood their inner turmoil and were too quick to judge. Instead of reaching out and lending a helping hand, we viewed them as miscreants and ingrates. 

Until recently, we thought that if people weren’t willing to snap out of the “slavery” of their minds, we should leave them behind and treat them as “Egyptians” – failures who deserved the darkness and shame they brought upon themselves. Suicide was viewed as a sin.  

We’ve now begun to recognise the mental health issues with which so many in our community struggle. All too often, there are underlying psychological issues. This person is not a sinner, but a victim. 

Today, we appreciate they are our kin and we would never leave them in the Egyptian darkness. They are in the light just like us. If we dismiss them, it is we who are in the dark.  

Their struggle isn’t all-enveloping. It’s an inner struggle we must reach out to and empathise with. As we approach Mental Health Awareness Shabbat this weekend, we must take them by the hand and bring them along with us on our journey, helping out in any way we can. That’s a sign we are nearing the final redemption.  

  •  Rabbi Daniel Friedman serves Hampstead Garden Suburb Synagogue

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