Parshat Bechukoti: Relevant now more than ever

02/06/2022

Parashat Bechukoti presents a model of covenant, including the benefits for those who will abide by it and the punishment for those who will not obey the covenant. This is how the punishment (curse) is detailed: 

״וְהַנִּשְׁאָרִ֣ים בָּכֶ֔ם וְהֵבֵ֤אתִי מֹ֙רֶךְ֙ בִּלְבָבָ֔ם בְּאַרְצֹ֖ת אֹיְבֵיהֶ֑ם וְרָדַ֣ף אֹתָ֗ם ק֚וֹל עָלֶ֣ה נִדָּ֔ף וְנָס֧וּ מְנֻֽסַת־חֶ֛רֶב וְנָפְל֖וּ וְאֵ֥ין רֹדֵֽף:  וְכָשְׁל֧וּ אִישׁ־בְּאָחִ֛יו כְּמִפְּנֵי־חֶ֖רֶב וְרֹדֵ֣ף אָ֑יִן וְלֹא־תִֽהְיֶ֤ה לָכֶם֙ תְּקוּמָ֔ה לִפְנֵ֖י אֹֽיְבֵיכֶֽם״ (ויקרא פרק כו, לו-לז) 

And as for them that are left of you, I will send a faintness into their heart in the lands of their enemies; and the sound of a driven leaf shall chase them; and they shall flee, as one flees from the sword; and they shall fall when none pursue. And they shall stumble one upon another, as it were before the sword, when none pursue; and you shall have no power to stand before your enemies.” (Lev. 26:36-37) 

These verses describe emotional distress caused by divine intervention. In a state of fear and anxiety  people become apprehensive and run away from reality, and percived enemies. This phenomenon description, in my opinion, is an example of mental illness. Mental distress is severe and causes a person to imagine threats and dangers, fear things that are not risks, and even react to them as if they were dangerous. 

This distress is not visible, nor is it clear if a person will identify it with divine intervention. There is a unique difficulty when it comes to a personal issues. Unseen by others, it is overwhelming and, one might not receive support. Beyond that, the difficult issue is perceived as permanent and affects the ability to conduct oneself in the world. Even if a person understands that it is his mental stateand is willing to deal with it, he might beafraid to share it with others, lest it may harm his social and occupational status. In fact, not only the person himself is afraid but in many cases also his family members. 

In this sense mental harm, although not tangible, may be more severe than other curses that appear in our parsha, such as wild animals. Beyond the difficulty itself, mental health is accompanied by a lack of recognition and support services. 

Last week, the religious coalition for mental health was launched in the Knesset. The coalition, an initiative of Rebbetzin Vered Mazuman Aviad, demands we pay attention to those who struggle with mental health issues and their families, as individuals, as a community, and as a State. Following the formation of the coalition, I learned, for example, that in closed hospital mental health wards there are no visits, and in any case, there are no sufganiyot on Hanukkah, Hamentashen on Purim, and no blowing of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah. Most inpatients are hospitalized for relatively long periods, and yet they have no way of praying in an orderly manner or observing Shabbat; there is no Kiddush over wine, nor blessing and lighting of Shabbat candles. The patients are far from the eye and far from the heart both metaphorically and physically. This might have remained so for a long time had it not been for Rebbetzin Vered’s initiative. Some solutions are simple and require only attention. Other solutions require us as a society to understand that even if it requires effort and responsibility for atrisk persons, we cannot simply reject them and say: 

At our school, there is no possibility that you will continue to study, 

In our youth movement, there is no place for mental illness, 

Our yeshiva is not prepared for that, 

We’d appreicate if you wouldn’t come to our community again. 

Keeping the covenant in our parsha requires paying attention to one another. I hope the news of the coalition that formed last week is first and foremost a a call to attention forour brothers. I hope we find ways to get closer to those who are sick, so we do not let them fall. And, if if they do fall, we must help them get back up. 

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