If the last year has taught us anything, it is that physical and mental health are equally important. Around the world it has been a tough year; here in Australia constant lockdowns (at short notice) made (and make) planning anything almost impossible.
Since the global pandemic began, people have struggled with the uncertainty that the virus has wrought on society. Lockdowns, designed to keep us physically healthy, have a devastating effect on our mental health. Record numbers of people are experiencing mental health issues and needing to seek support. Mental health-care professionals report that waiting lists have ballooned – there is a crisis on our hands. So, as we mark R U OK Day today, September 9, 2021, a national day dedicated to mental health awareness and suicide awareness, it has never been more important to check in with our friends and loved ones. R U OK Day aims for people to reach out and ask each other if they are okay and have important conversations about struggles that people may be experiencing.
For millions of people in lockdown across the country, it has been a year in which they have been forced to give up on many things that make life happy and exciting. The lockdowns are necessary in order to prevent the spread of disease and sickness, but they still take a massive toll.
If we cannot gather together to mark sacred occasions, birthdays, weddings, funerals and the rich tapestry of life that brings meaning and happiness to our lives, we find ourselves depleted and sad.
However, as Jewish people we are believers, and we know that despite the restrictions we can show up together and pull through the toughest of times.
With just 30 verses, the smallest number of verses in any parasha, parashat Vayelech that we read this week includes some of the most fundamental principles of faith.
Moshe informs the people that after he dies Joshua will take over as leader. The succession plan was meant to instil confidence in the people that they would have strong leadership when they entered into the land of Israel. His instruction “Chizku v’amtzu – be strong and of good courage” in plural form rather than just the singular “chazak v’ematz” was to tell them and us that our success is measured in our unity and ability to gather and follow our leaders. We are strong if we recognise the fact that we are interdependent upon each other.
Moshe also draws on the monumental battles fought in the desert against the kings Sichon and Og, as he highlights the battles and other difficulties the people will face upon entering the land of Israel.
Conquering the land of Israel and becoming a nation and a people will be full of challenges. As he exhorts the people to have faith in God and be strong and courageous, he is girding them for the long slog and trying times ahead.
He encourages them by noting that anything painful or difficult that they will endure will only be a temporary state of being, as God is with them and has blessed them. And such is the message for us – better days are yet coming, and we will be celebrating good times ahead soon.
Shana Tova to all.
Gabi Kaltmann is rabbi of the Ark Centre, Melbourne.