Rabbinic Reflections: Issue 159

May 12, 2023 (21 Iyar 5783)

In His Path: It's not always so easy!

Dear Friends,

I hope this correspondence finds you doing well and in good health. Please join us this Saturday morning for Shabbat services, which will take place in our beautiful sanctuary at 10:15am. These services will, as always, be available on our regular Zoom prayer link. Whether in-person or on Zoom, we look forward to davening (praying) with you!

This Shabbat, we will celebrate the Bat Mitzvah anniversary of our member Andrea Zweig Wagner, who will chant the Maftir and the Haftarah on our behalf. We also look forward to welcoming Andrea’s mishpucha (family) and thank them in advance for sponsoring our Shabbat Kiddush luncheon.

Please join us at 8:00pm on Monday, May 22nd for our third installment of Israel Update, when we will be joined by Dr. Tuvia Book, who will speak on the realities and challenges of everyday life in Israel. Tuvia lives in Modiin and is a noted lecturer, scholar-in-residence, and licensed tour guide.

In the second of this week’s Torah portions, Bechukotai, we read HaShem’s ultimate challenge to the Jewish people: אִם־בְּחֻקֹּתַ֖י תֵּלֵ֑כוּ, “when you walk in my ways.” The portion details the blessings that come our way when following God’s path and, by corollary, the curses that lurk when we turn our backs on our sacred calling.

While Bechukotai offers a simple roadmap to personal and spiritual success, we must acknowledge that as we go through life, it is not always simple to follow the straight path, whether with God or within our own being. In our society, numerous obstacles can impede our ability to present our most authentic and genuine self. Our challenges may be physical, cognitive, financial, familial, emotional, and even center around mental health.

Over the past few years, mental health struggles among some celebrities have been featured in the press, but mental health issues seem to be a new epidemic affecting many young adults, the causes of which were exacerbated by the isolation imposed by Covid. Sadly, this trend has not escaped our own Jewish communities.

Last Friday, the high school at which I teach held its third annual Student Mental Health Awareness panel. The panel provided a forum for our students to share their stories of ongoing mental health struggles during a school-wide assembly. One after another, students courageously shared their personal sufferings.

One student, who had been diagnosed with anxiety disorder, mentioned that she was ready for people to understand more about mental health struggles, which is sometimes hard for others to comprehend. With great empathy, I listened to a myriad of youngsters, who described existential uncertainty, social anxiety, attention disorder, patterns of self-harm, instances of assault, and even suicidal ideation.

After the presentation, a student who had struggled with OCD reflected on her experience of sharing those strains. “I’m super proud of myself and everyone who spoke because considering how nervous we were, the reaction was super positive. I think it’s important that everyone knows that they’re not alone in whatever they’re going through.”

The stated goal of the gathering was to raise awareness, destigmatize mental health issues, and hopefully brighten somebody’s life. It was hoped that if there were others in pain, hearing about these experiences would allow them to know that they are not alone. The message was indeed a message of hope and resilience.

The emotional presentation reminded me that Judaism is an empathetic and realistic religion. The Psalms are replete with passages that describe Hashem’s orientation to those in dire straits. Psalm 34 is particularly sensitive to the human condition and reminds us that, “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; those crushed in spirit He delivers… I turned to the LORD, and He answered me; He saved me from all my fears… Here was a lowly man who called, and the LORD listened, and delivered him from all his troubles.”

Towards the conclusion of each Torah service, during the Misheberach prayer, we recite, “Refuat HaNefesh U’Refuat HaGuf.” HaShem should heal both the body and the soul.

In devout partnership with our Creator, may this Shabbat heighten our awareness and lead us to be the best listeners that we can be. May we always support our brothers and sisters, who may not be experiencing the easiest of paths. Ultimately, in fullness of health of mind, body, and soul, we can all follow in God’s pathways in the greatest manner and become a Divine blessing to ourselves, our family, and others.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Eric L. Wasser, EdD, Hon.DM
Tel: 201-562-5277

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