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I will give a little warning. This was a difficult sermon to write and is personal. I hope that you do not think it too self-indulgent. But this week in particular I have to say something apt.

As I mentioned earlier in the service, this week is Mental Health Awareness Shabbat.  Jami, the charity which does so much to provide services and support for children, adults and carers, and to educate everyone in this area, has provided a lot of materials to help raise knowledge, to help people recognise what is happening and to show where to seek help. Its work is detailed on their website at and I would encourage you all to take a look at it. The website includes six sermons from rabbis from all movements. These are all worth reading but the sermon from Rabbi Robyn Ashworth Steen of Manchester Reform Synagogue particularly struck me.

Some of you will know that in September I was made redundant from a job I loved, and at which I had been successful. A job I held for 16 years, apart from a short break in 2010 when the global financial crash hit our industry and I was temporarily laid off.

After all of that time, I had become pretty complacent. I knew the industry, our products, clients and my colleagues pretty well. I had fantastic relationships both inside and outside of the company and to be absolutely honest I was not stretching myself but always exceeding my objectives. The company had got into significant difficulty partly due to Covid, partly the war in Ukraine, partly because the market in which it operates is changing globally, and I think if its leadership is honest also partly due to some bad investment and acquisition decisions. Share price had slumped and the markets were demanding serious action. That action commenced on 30th September with several thousand people being made redundant – including me. More again in December. It was not my first redundancy but potentially at my age possibly the most serious. I had some time before it became a very significant financial problem but by the end of the second month, I still had not secured a new job.

This has led me to think of Moses. I assume from his position as an important figure in Pharoah’s court he had also become complacent. I didn’t murder any soldiers but my situation had created tensions in the organisation and I began to wonder if despite all of the HR assurances, if I could have done anything different to avoid the problem. Initially I was in denial. It couldn’t happen to me. I was too important. I was too experienced. I was too respected by clients, colleagues and corporate leaders. Then as I tried to find ‘a new role in the company and had multiple doors slammed in my face, I began to suspect that it was a conspiracy theory. Everything came in to my head. They (my boss particularly) were out to get me. I was a victim because I had worked for a small company which was acquired and we all thought we were smarter than everyone else. I was discriminated against because I had once blown the whistle on a colleague who had been guilty of inappropriate conduct. It was anti-British prejudice. (I was the only UK based person in this position in my team.) It was antisemitism – with absolutely no evidence whatsoever. During the consultation period, I admit to descending to some pretty dark places. I certainly got angry. Not just at work, but with friends and family as well – and this is my chance to start to apologise for that.  I think now that this was possibly the start of me not coping with the challenges, and I should have seen it as a mental health issue – as others urged me to. If I had understood that properly, I would have sought some help but I was in denial about that too. All I told those I love who had tried to say this, was that no doctor could help. I needed a job or my old job back and everything will be fine.

I wonder if Moses would not at his advanced age have thought something very similar. His life as he knew it was ripped apart. He position taken away, given a job he had never done before with people he knew about but did not know. He was an outsider both in Pharoah’s court and in the Hebrew population.

But I then got lucky. I found a great opportunity in a new role which excited me and was interesting. With a company who clearly value my skills and experience and who are successful in an industry that I expect will do well over the coming years. I applied for this and was delighted to be offered the new job which I started just under two weeks ago. It felt like a great weight had been lifted. Of course I was apprehensive, scared even.  But determined to make a success of it. Day one really hit me. I had no clue how this new industry worked. I understood my task (just as Moses understood exactly what God was asking of him) but I was worried that my new bosses would not listen to me. Again exactly as Moses had said.  Moses had the comfort of Aaron as his voice and words given to him by God. I did not – just my own knowledge.

I think the difference at this stage was that I now recognised that change on what is actually a profound scale like this is a serious risk of mental health challenge. Both in the loss experienced on redundancy, and on starting a new role. This time, I have the support. The new company recognises it. They provide access to help for those with anxieties such as this. They allow a good amount of time to get used to new practices and procedures. They educate well and have been doing a great job of this in these first two weeks. And I seem to have fantastic new colleagues.

Moses had none of this support as he undertook his new role as a leader of people he had not really engaged with in his formative years. He showed significant signs of mental health issues. Temper tantrums – including murdering a soldier, losing his temper at Merivah, and again on Mount Sinai, failure to delegate until his father-in-law showed him that he could not do everything himself. He is our greatest leader but like all Jewish heroes, was flawed.  And he learned and listened. Right up to his death. He created a scheme of delegation. He spent the whole of the book of Deuteronomy recounting what had happened in the previous 40 years to a new generation who had not been in Egypt, and knew exactly how to hand over to Joshua.

For those of us who are not Moses we have to learn from this. Listening to Jethro was perhaps his wisest move.  Jethro was not a Hebrew – he was a Midianite priest. However, we are fortunate. We have experts who can help us when we need it. We do not have a rabbi here at Sinai at the moment but we do have access to support as we continue our search. I remember on my last redundancy, when I was not coping with the situation, Rabbi Morris jumped in his car at very short notice when called by Gwynneth and sat with me for a long time. He explained that redundancy is like a bereavement. Something you love is taken away – often with very little notice. Something you have relied upon. The pain does fade but it never really goes. We need coping strategies which differ for us all. For me it was practical help. For others it is emotional support and if I am honest I should have taken that this time too but I didn’t. I did have wonderful practical support though from several friends and family in helping with applications, my CV and much more – including some I will not name, here at Sinai. So thank you – you know who you are.  But Rabbi Morris’ wise words did not just help last time. Even though he has now retired they still ring in my ears and I thank him too.

So for me the lesson has to be like Moses to learn from these two experiences which undoubtedly created stress which probably is a significant mental health challenge. Firstly to recognise what is happening. The moment you start to take things out on those around you, experience paranoia, make bad decisions, suffer sleep loss, panic, fear or even eating issues – in my case over snacking and stopping exercising but in others could be depriving yourself,  seek help. The help does not have to be practical advice to solve the causing problem, but can also be about strategies to cope which can even lead to it being solved.  

And I would also say, offer to lead a service at Sinai and write about it!