I set my hope on two words in this week’s Torah reading: verapoh verapeh, ‘heal, surely heal.’ In fact, they’re just one word, doubled for emphasis: ‘Heal.’ I pray to the God of healing, and for the capacity in each of us to be healers.
Waves of worry and sorrow wash over us with a remorselessness most of us have not experienced in our lifetimes. It’s hard to hold still and strong in our hearts as we listen to the voices which cry out.
Sharone Lifschitz told our synagogue about her parents from Kibbutz Nir Oz, her mother Yocheved freed after two weeks, her father, aged 83 and with complex medical needs, still held hostage by Hamas after over 125 days. She spoke of the village they created, their love of nature, their friendships with Palestinians in Gaza, their lifelong commitment to peace-making. Her voice was calm, collected and humane throughout, even when she described the studied brutality inflicted on her community. The trauma is immeasurable, she stressed: do what you can to bring healing.
If we have space in our hearts to include it, and I believe we must, the pain on the other side of the border is also immense. Trapped in the whirlpool of a merciless politics in which many parties across the Middle East are to blame, caught now between Hamas and Israel, what are the thousands of Palestinian civilians to do, where are they to go, what future awaits them with any light of hope on its horizon?
None of this is helped by the tides of brash, one-sided, frequently ignorant and malicious accusations, which leave us Jews, and many Muslims also, feeling branded, lonely, and negated.
I cannot forget, too, a different pain: the suffering of nature itself. It is the greatest and most wonderful resource for our physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing. Yet it is relentlessly depleted by our refusal to take sufficient cognisance and a politics of disregard. I love this world of trees and birds, yet there are days when I am full of sorrow for it all.
For all these reasons ‘Heal!’ cries out. In context, it expresses our obligation to cure any injuries we’ve inflicted on others, including their pain and humiliation. The Shulchan Aruch takes it as the basis for the physician’s obligation to practice. But in the widest sense, healing belongs to us all. We all long for the day when, in Malachi’s beautiful words, ‘the sun of righteousness will rise with healing on its wings.’
So what healing can we bring? There are countless good ways to donate and volunteer, and we should. But I’m thinking of the inner challenges. Can we listen to pain and worry in quiet companionship? Can we keep our heart free, not from just indignation, but from the floods of fury? Can we hold in our consciousness that she or he, too, is human? If there’s an opportunity to say something kind, can we make sure to take it? If there’s something difficult to express, can we do so honestly, but without inflaming more hurt? Can we try not to wound the lives of non-human creatures?
To meet these challenges, we have to nourish our reverence for life. Respect, wonder, kindness, appreciation, companionship, love and joy: these are our great resources for facing the wrongs of the world. These are our ways to bring healing.
Is what we can do together for our world ever enough? I don’t know. What I do know is that we must hold fast to the value of small things, to the confidence that the little differences we make will add up to making a true difference. Beyond that, we must pray that God, ‘the Creator of Healing’ who abides in all life, will bring healing to us all.