In Featured at HBT, Our Virtual Mishkan, Reflections: Rabbi Zachary Goodman

Mental Health and Well-Being

May is Mental Health Month, a time when we consider ways to prevent and treat mental illness. In this last week of May, we celebrate Shavuot and read the Book of Ruth; which tells of Naomi, a widow at midlife so despondent and hopeless that she tells her daughter-in-law Ruth to call her Marah, the Hebrew word for “bitterness,” rather than her actual name, which means “pleasantness.” Shavuot offers us a powerful glimpse at how others in our tradition and history faced unimaginable and unrelenting losses. There are powerful lessons for us within the story of Naomi and her daughter-in-law Ruth about faith, resilience, love and well-being.

We find many other examples of biblical characters in the Torah and among the prophets who struggled with their mental well-being as well. Jacob suffered from loneliness, Saul suffered from terrors, Hannah coped with depression, and David was troubled and battled deep despair. In many of the Psalms, David writes of his anguish, loneliness, fear of the enemy, and the guilt he struggled with.

“My guilt has overwhelmed me like a burden too heavy to bear.” Ps. 38:4

“Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” Ps. 42:11

During these challenging times of isolation and anxiety, please know that you are not alone. Even as the Holy Blossom community practices physical distancing, we are making every effort to connect to one another with spiritual nearness.

On Monday, I had the privilege of joining the Holy Blossom Teen Mental Health Initiative during their HABSTY Virtual Lounge night. The conversation was led by the teens and provided an opportunity to share and listen to personal experiences and stories, engage in Jewish learning, and create a safe space to discuss the challenges of isolation. Our young people never cease to amaze me. Their insights and expressions of compassion were deeply moving! This evening, which was proudly supported by The Luke Sklar Mental Health Initiative, was just the first in what will be a series of mental health awareness programs planned by our teens!

On Tuesday, the entire Holy Blossom staff took the time to engage in a professional development opportunity with the Gerstein Centre. Thanks to the sponsorship of the Luke Sklar Mental Health Initiative, our staff, administration and clergy joined together for our second interactive workshop on mental health crisis management. We are already blessed with an incredibly caring and compassionate team of professionals at Holy Blossom, and I am proud that we took the time to deepen our learning together. I am very grateful to the Luke Sklar Mental Health Initiative for bringing this thoughtful and necessary focus to what we already offer our congregation.

In these trying times, it is important to remember that our mental health is equally as important as our physical health and that there are many ways to practice self-care. Whether you find solace in prayer, music, nature, or community, I encourage you to carve out space for yourself!

Mental Health Resources:

I also want to promote a really unique opportunity for online learning. Yale University is offering one of their most popular class of all time, “The Science of Well-Being,” online at no cost. This self-paced course is complete with videos, readings and assignments with flexible submission dates. There are currently over 2.5 million people who have registered for this free course! I am only a few lessons in but have found the class stimulating and refreshing. You can find more information and register for the free course by clicking here!

To conclude, I want to share with you a prayer of healing for mental illness written by Rabbi Elliot Kukla. Rabbi Kukla was born in Toronto and was an active member of Holy Blossom’s 20’s & 30’s YAD programming before he was ordained. Rabbi Kukla writes:

May the One who blessed our ancestors bless all who live with mental illness, our caregivers, families, and friends. May we walk in the footsteps of Jacob, King Saul, Miriam, Hannah, and Naomi who struggled with dark moods, hopelessness, isolation, and terrors, but survived and led our people. Just as our father, Jacob, spent the night wrestling with an angel and prevailed, may all who live with mental illness be granted the endurance to wrestle with pain and prevail night upon night. Grace us with the faith to know that though, like Jacob, we may be wounded, shaped and renamed by this struggle, still, we will live on to continue an ever-unfolding, unpredictable path toward healing. May we not be alone on this path but accompanied by our families, friends, care-givers, ancestors, and the Divine presence. Surround us with loving-kindness, grace and companionship and spread over us a sukkat shalom, a shelter of peace and wholeness. And let us say: Amen.

Wishing you and your loved ones a Shavuot of growth, learning, introspection, strength, good health and inspiring Torah! Chag Shavuot Sameach!

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