Orthodox and Conservative/Masorti Jews read through the whole of the Torah (Five Books of Moses) each year, one section a week.  Each weekly section is called a sedra or a parasha.  I had the idea of writing something related to mental health each week on the sedra, not a devar Torah as such, but just a reflection, letting the Torah illuminate mental health or vice versa.  This is probably impossible (the run of sedrot from the second half of Shemot (Exodus) through Vayikra (Leviticus) and on to the beginning of Bamidbar (Numbers) is going to be difficult), but I thought I would try.

Traditional Jewish hermeneutics (textual interpretation) places great emphasis on opening words, first appearances, first lines of dialogue.  Obviously the early chapters of Bereshit (Genesis) are full of firsts, but I noticed one I hadn’t noticed before this week.  Right at the end of the sedra it states that God saw the evil of mankind (which has only been around for a few generations at this point) “And the Eternal regretted that He had made the man on the earth and He was pained to His heart” (Bereshit 6.6).  This, so far as I can tell, is the first time that an emotion is imputed to God.  He isn’t said to be happy with His universe in the creation story (He says it is good, but we do not hear what He feels about it) or angered by the sins of Adam and Chava (Eve) or Kayin (Cain), but He is pained by the evil of mankind as a species.  Without getting into the theological question of whether God really experiences emotions or whether (as per the Rambam) He is merely described as having them for educational purposes (an argument I do not feel qualified to enter into), I think it is significant that He is described as feeling regret and inner pain and that this is in fact our first introduction to His emotional life (or “emotional life” if you prefer). While on one level this sets the scene for Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) as a whole, which is one big story of God’s usually unrequited love for mankind in general and the Jewish people in particular, it also seems to be a way of legitimating depressive emotions as natural and suggesting that they should be expressed and not repressed or sublimated as some Jewish thinkers (particularly Chassidim) would say.

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