Water is an essential part of our lives, and in Jewish tradition we celebrate water. One example is on the holiday of Shemini Atzeret when we pray for rain:
While originally a prayer for rain in association with the yearly harvest, climate change and its accompanying consequences on our collective mental health has given it a renewed significance.
Climate change has become an increasingly significant cause of mental illness. In recent years, studies have shown that a growing number of people experiencing mental health challenges have been those vulnerable to the potential impacts of climate change. In particular, the discomfort caused by abnormally extreme heat and lack of rain has led to increased use of alcohol to cope with stress, increases in hospital and emergency room admissions for people with mental health or psychiatric conditions and an increase in suicide.
A study by the American Psychiatric Association also warned of the disastrous effects climate change can have on the mental health of children. “Children are more impacted by disasters than adults and are more likely to have continued trauma-related symptoms after a disaster. Disruptions in routine, separation from caregivers as a result of evacuations or displacement, and parental stress after a disaster all contribute to children’s distress. Children are often very resilient, and reactions to disasters may resolve over time, but they should be monitored for long-term effects of chronic stress related to extreme weather events.”
We need a natural climate for our mental and physical health, and Shemini Atzeret provides a ritual to honor and commemorate this need in the form of a prayer for rain. But we must remember we are tasked with doing our part in keeping the world we were given safe and healthy. At the beginning of the Torah, when humankind was created, God told us:
When we do our part to make our world healthier, we quite literally embody “tikkun olam” and, simultaneously, the mental health middah of פיקוח נפש (pikuach nefesh – saving a life). On Shemini Atzeret, ask yourself what you can do to lessen the impact of climate change on your communities. Here are some suggestions:
Reduce your burning of fossil fuels by carpooling or biking to work or school.
Reduce your carbon footprint.
Reach out to your representatives to support legislation lessening the impact of climate change.
What are some ways you can promote climate action, health, peace and happiness for you, your community and the planet? Also, think about the things in nature for which you are grateful, and write them down! In reflecting on everything the world gives us, we will feel more empowered to do our part to save it.