It’s Mental Health Awareness Week, with the theme of kindness. So, what does the Torah say about this?
Saul, King of Israel, was soothed out of his state of melancholy by David. Saul suffered badly from depression, which on one occasion caused him to throw a javelin at David and once at his own son, Jonathan.
Notwithstanding, David’s kindness shone and demonstrated itself fearlessly. He understood Saul’s ailment and did not hold it against him personally.
The power of healing music for mental suffering is, since Biblical times, a major focus for Jews. Part of the period between Pesach and Shavuot, which is commemorative of sad periods of persecution in recent times, stops the playing of music in many Jewish communities – but not all.
A precedent was set by Don Isaac Abarbanel, the great rabbi and sage of the Iberian community, who ordered that music should be played on Tisha B’Av, the Hebrew date in 1492, upon which the Decree of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain came into effect to expel Jews and Moors from Spain.
Don Isaac did this because of his concern for the mental health and welfare of his people who could not bear the strain of seeing life descend into frightening uncertainty.
Kings, rabbis, and commoners all suffer mental stress, no one is exempt.
In recent times, pikuach nefesh, doing what is necessary to save a life mentally has been halachically equated with and considered as seriously as physical danger to life and self.
Committing to a Mental Health First Aid course is as crucial to be proficient in as a St John’s Ambulance course in resuscitation.
Recognising our mutual concern and looking out for each other always, is the greatest kindness from which society can benefit.
Let the great displays of kindness we have seen recently bode well for a post-Covid world.
- Rabbi Abel serves Liverpool Old Hebrew Congregation and is padre to Merseyside Army Cadet Force