Shiurim & Adult Education

Learning is a vital part of our ethos and vision and we would like to respond to our members needs and requirements. Initially the Dayan has established a programme offering weekly sessions for both men and women but please do let us know if you would like any additional learning sessions and we will do our best to find you a suitable chavruta.


THOUGHTS FOR MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS SHABBAT PARASHAT BO BY RABBI DANIEL EPSTEIN

Everyone Needs A Moment

To have moved from a moment of clarity in 2016 to a Shabbat of focus on mental health that encompasses over 150 communities is nothing short of a God-given opportunity, for which many of us are deeply grateful. Choosing Shabbat as the day to focus on our mental health is the correct orientation and understanding of the term “Shabbat Menucha” – a “Shabbat of Rest”. A Shabbat to reset the week and
to reset ourselves on a positive path for the week ahead.

In Mental Health First Aid training, specifically with regards to suicide prevention, God forbid, one of the key lessons is that everything in life is a choice. Sometimes, the situation and the circumstances are so overwhelming, that it appears that “choice” would be the last word that the person in this dire state would admit to having. But the fact of the matter is that everything in life is a choice. Good mental health could be defined as “us being in charge of our choices” and poor mental health could, in contrast, be defined as “our choices being in charge of us”. We all sit somewhere on this spectrum and it is completely dynamic.

How many times do we feel, literally, enslaved to our situation, thinking that there is no way forward other than the inevitable path that is laid out before us? The key to resilience and good mental health, in every instance, without exception, is the ability to maintain freedom of choice and free will. Traditionally, there are only two answers to every decision: “yes” or “no”. However, Mental Health First Aid teaches that there is a third choice. At the very edge of potential catastrophe, there can be an alternative pathway in many cases, but not in all.

The third choice is: pause.

For someone who feels that the end of the path has been reached and that they have nowhere else to turn, the option to NOT take a decision at that point can be cathartic and powerful. We are not negating or dismissing their feelings or beliefs about their situation, but asking for a “time out” to revisit the narrative that has led to this point; but at a time that offers more space. In some cases, we may be able to secure ten minutes. In others, it may be years. But even Noah needed a moment after the Flood.

The story in Genesis, chapters 6 to 8, is a well-known narrative. God tells Noah he is disappointed with humanity and the rest of creation in not “being with its kind appropriately” (6:5, 12-13) and that he will send a Flood to destroy the earth.

Under God’s instruction, Noah builds an Ark and takes his family and all species of animals into the Ark with him, to weather the storm – literally. Noah emerges after a 40-day Flood, whose waters took over a year to subside, and he offers sacrifices in deep gratitude to God for having brought him through this experience. All seems fine and, despite the trauma of seeing a world destroyed, Noah seems to be correctly oriented and resilient enough to move forward. His ability to thank God in this moment is the choice he makes. But then we are told that Noah becomes a farmer. He plants a vineyard, becomes exceedingly drunk and retires to his tent in disgrace (9:21).

What happened? Surely Noah was doing well? He had made it through the toughest time and yet, what we see appears to be a classic case of post-traumatic stress.

The Torah, I believe, is trying to help us understand that trauma “needs somewhere to go”. Nothing vanishes without trace and all experiences leave their mark.

Noah successfully navigated his way through the end of the world. He emerged on the other side with his family and precious cargo physically intact, and he thanked God for saving him and his family. But he needed a moment to absorb the full impact of what he had seen and experienced.

Our job in this world is to navigate the storms. For they will come.

God tells us to “build an Ark”. Be prepared with a plan of action for all eventualities, because even in the face of complete destruction, God has promised us that somewhere, the key to the future is lovingly and carefully ensconced in a vessel that will float above the catastrophe and emerge on the other side.

Our job is either to build that Ark, or to look for it and, when we find it, its inhabitants may very well be inherently strong, but they are also prone to moments of vulnerability.

The psychological metaphor of a pandemic whose effects will be felt for a generation or more are on all of our minds. Just 40 days of flood, but a year in the Ark. That is the legacy of this pandemic as it continues to unfold.

We may have come through a first and second wave intact, but the impact of this global event will play out for a whole generation.

Let us pray that we are strong enough to respond to this and humble enough to ask for help when we need it.

Shabbat Shalom

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