February 7, 2014 admin


I was reading from the Torah recently when someone asked for something to be said on behalf of a relative who was ill. At once, before I could do anything about it, the traditionalMisheberach was intoned, the prayer which asks God to send ‘complete healing of the spirit and the body’. But, as I and many others knew, the person concerned was dying. What mattered now was not physical healing but comfort, companionship and peace. I thought of the simple words of a colleague in a similar situation: ‘May God be with her and her family on this journey’. That was so much more appropriate.
Today, the 7th of Adar, is traditionally regarded as the anniversary of Moses’ death. His brief, heartfelt supplication for his sister is still the heart of all our healing prayers: ‘Please, God, heal her, please’. Of the five Hebrew words, two are the same: ‘na – please’. Sometimes in our anxiety and helplessness next to the bed of the person we love, all language and all feeling contracts into just one single word: ‘Please!’ or maybe two words: ‘Please, God. Please, God. Please!’
Prayer is about how we engage our heart and consciousness with the greatest possible being. Sometimes it is a passionate, unrestrained outpouring of hope and need, as if we were flinging ourselves into the winds of the storm. Sometimes it is a stepping back, as if the breeze were entering us, breathing into unexplored chambers of the heart. Sometimes prayer is formed of words and song, sometimes silence. Sometimes we can ascribe to it no content, only the quiet awareness that we have been in partnership. If asked: ‘In partnership with what?’ we would find it hard to answer, but might say, tentatively, ‘With life, with my own spirit, with nature, with God’. But we would probably rather not answer.
The practice of praying in the congregation for those who are ill is Talmudic at the latest. The Shulchan Aruch (16th century) rules that we should include them in the community of those who are also ill, saying “May the All-Present One heal you amidst the sick of all Israel” Many of us add: ‘and all humankind’. The emphasis is that a person is not alone, both because there are many others who are ill too, and because we as a community now commit ourselves to supporting them and all who care for them.
I don’t think we manage these prayers well in our community, or in most others I have visited. People come to the synagogue with many anxieties and fears, about their own health, and about the wellbeing of family and friends. There are many kinds of illness too, and they all feel different at varying stages. The book Where Healing Resides, prepared by the Central Conference of American Rabbis, contains many thoughtful reflections, such as this prayer about chronic illness:
         Compassionate One, give me the strength and courage to face the daily challenges in my life…Be by my side…
or this meditation for people commencing treatment:
         Grant me strength to overcome any obstacles that lie ahead [and] hope to allow me to persevere in moments of darkness. Grant that those providing medical care may be gentle and compassionate.
I would like to prepare a card with a number of different healing prayers and make it available to whoever chooses for personal reflection. Each week, too, we should include a brief communal prayer from a selection touching on different aspects of healing. This will remind us to be aware of and compassionate towards each other through life’s many, exacting and often lonely challenges.

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