Praying for Healing – a look at the sources

Can also be found on sefaria at https://www.sefaria.org/sheets/227042?lang=bi

 

1.      1…Genesis 20:17

(17) Abraham then prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech and his wife and his slave girls, so that they bore children;
 

בראשית כ׳:י״ז

(יז) וַיִּתְפַּלֵּ֥ל אַבְרָהָ֖ם אֶל־הָאֱלֹהִ֑ים וַיִּרְפָּ֨א אֱלֹהִ֜ים אֶת־אֲבִימֶ֧לֶךְ וְאֶת־אִשְׁתּ֛וֹ וְאַמְהֹתָ֖יו וַיֵּלֵֽדוּ׃
2…..Numbers 12:10-13

 As the cloud withdrew from the Tent, there was Miriam stricken with snow-white scales! When Aaron turned toward Miriam, he saw that she was stricken with scales. And Aaron said to Moses, “O my lord, account not to us the sin which we committed in our folly. Let her not be as one dead, who emerges from his mother’s womb with half his flesh eaten away.” So Moses cried out to the Eternal, saying, “O God, pray heal her!”
במדבר י״ב:י׳-י״ג

(י) וְהֶעָנָ֗ן סָ֚ר מֵעַ֣ל הָאֹ֔הֶל וְהִנֵּ֥ה מִרְיָ֖ם מְצֹרַ֣עַת כַּשָּׁ֑לֶג וַיִּ֧פֶן אַהֲרֹ֛ן אֶל־מִרְיָ֖ם וְהִנֵּ֥ה מְצֹרָֽעַת׃ (יא) וַיֹּ֥אמֶר אַהֲרֹ֖ן אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֑ה בִּ֣י אֲדֹנִ֔י אַל־נָ֨א תָשֵׁ֤ת עָלֵ֙ינוּ֙ חַטָּ֔את אֲשֶׁ֥ר נוֹאַ֖לְנוּ וַאֲשֶׁ֥ר חָטָֽאנוּ׃ (יב) אַל־נָ֥א תְהִ֖י כַּמֵּ֑ת אֲשֶׁ֤ר בְּצֵאתוֹ֙ מֵרֶ֣חֶם אִמּ֔וֹ וַיֵּאָכֵ֖ל חֲצִ֥י בְשָׂרֽוֹ׃ (יג) וַיִּצְעַ֣ק מֹשֶׁ֔ה אֶל־יְהוָ֖ה לֵאמֹ֑ר אֵ֕ל נָ֛א רְפָ֥א נָ֖א לָֽהּ׃ (פ)
3 ….Exodus 15:26

(26) He said, “If you will heed the Eternal your God diligently, doing what is upright in God’s sight, giving ear to God’s commandments and keeping all God’s laws, then I will not bring upon you any of the diseases that I brought upon the Egyptians, for I the Eternal am your healer.”

4 Asher Yatzar

שמות ט״ו:כ״ו

(כו) וַיֹּאמֶר֩ אִם־שָׁמ֨וֹעַ תִּשְׁמַ֜ע לְק֣וֹל ׀ יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֗יךָ וְהַיָּשָׁ֤ר בְּעֵינָיו֙ תַּעֲשֶׂ֔ה וְהַֽאֲזַנְתָּ֙ לְמִצְוֺתָ֔יו וְשָׁמַרְתָּ֖ כָּל־חֻקָּ֑יו כָּֽל־הַמַּֽחֲלָ֞ה אֲשֶׁר־שַׂ֤מְתִּי בְמִצְרַ֙יִם֙ לֹא־אָשִׂ֣ים עָלֶ֔יךָ כִּ֛י אֲנִ֥י יְהוָ֖ה רֹפְאֶֽךָ׃ (ס)
אֲשֶׁר יָצַר

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם

אֲשֶׁר יָצַר אֶת הָאָדָם בְּחָכְמָה

וּבָרָא בוֹ נְקָבִים נְקָבִים חֲלוּלִים חֲלוּלִים.

גָּלוּי וְיָדוּעַ לִפְנֵי כִסֵּא כְבוֹדֶךָ

שֶׁאִם יִפָּתֵחַ אֶחָד מֵהֶם אוֹ יִסָּתֵם אֶחָד מֵהֶם

אִי אֶפְשַׁר לְהִתְקַיֵּם וְלַעֲמוֹד לְפָנֶיךָ.

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְהֹוָה רוֹפֵא כָל בָּשָׂר

וּמַפְלִיא לַעֲשֹוֹת.

Blessed are You, God, our God, sovereign of the universe, who formed humans with wisdom and created within us many openings and many hollows. It is obvious in the presence of your glorious throne that if one of them were ruptured, or if one of them were blocked, it would be impossible to exist and stand in your presence.

Blessed are You, God, who heals all flesh and performs wonders

 

5    Siddur Ashkenaz, Weekday, Shacharit, Amidah, Healing

(1) Heal us, O God, and we shall be healed, save us and we shall be saved, for You are our praise. Bring complete healing to all our wounds,

(2) (Prayer for a sick person: May it be Your will in front of You, O Eternal, my God and the God of my ancestors, that You quickly send a complete recovery from the Heavens – a recovery of the soul and a recovery of the body – to the the sick person, insert name, the son/daughter of insert mother’s name, among the other sick ones of Israel.)

(3) for You are God and Sovereign, the faithful and merciful healer. Blessed are You, O God, Who heals the sick of Your people Israel.

 

סידור אשכנז, ימי חול, תפילת שחרית, עמידה, רפואה

(א) רְפָאֵנוּ ה’ וְנֵרָפֵא. הושִׁיעֵנוּ וְנִוָּשֵׁעָה כִּי תְהִלָּתֵנוּ אָתָּה. וְהַעֲלֵה רְפוּאָה שְׁלֵמָה לְכָל מַכּותֵינוּ.

(ב) תפילה בעד החולה: יְהִי רָצון מִלְּפָנֶיךָ ה’ אֱלהַי וֵאלהֵי אֲבותַי. שֶׁתִּשְׁלַח מְהֵרָה רְפוּאָה שְׁלֵמָה מִן הַשָּׁמַיִם. רְפוּאַת הַנֶּפֶשׁ וּרְפוּאַת הַגּוּף לְחולֶה פב”פ בְּתוךְ שְׁאָר חולֵי יִשרָאֵל:

(ג) כִּי אֵל מֶלֶךְ רופֵא נֶאֱמָן וְרַחֲמָן אָתָּה. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’, רופֵא חולֵי עַמּו יִשרָאֵל:

6 Siddur Ashkenaz, Shabbat, Shacharit, Keriat Hatorah, Reading from Sefer, Mi Sheberach, For Sickness (includes man and woman) 2

 

For a Woman:

May the one who blessed our ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Moses and Aaron, David and Solomon bless [First Name, daughter of Mother’s Name], for which [name of person asking for the prayer] vows to give charity for her sake. As reward for this, may the Holy One, Blessed Be God, be filled with mercy for her, to heal her and to strengthen her and to enliven her, and quickly send her a complete healing from heaven to all her limbs and organs, among the other sick of Israel, a healing of the spirit and a healing of the body. On Shabbat: On Shabbat we do not cry out, and healing will soon come. Now, speedily, and in a time soon to come, and let us say, Amen.

סידור אשכנז, שבת, שחרית, קריאת התורה, קריאת התורה, מי שברך, לחולים ב׳

(ב) לנקבה:

מִי שֶׁבֵּרַךְ אֲבותֵינוּ אַבְרָהָם יִצְחָק וְיַעֲקב משֶׁה וְאַהֲרן דָּוִד וּשְׁלמה הוּא יְבָרֵךְ אֶת הַחולָה פב”פ בַּעֲבוּר שפב”פ נודֵר צְדָקָה בַּעֲבוּרָהּ, בִּשכַר זֶה הַקָּדושׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא יִמָלֵא רַחֲמִים עָלֶיהָ לְהַחֲלִימָהּ וּלְרַפְּאתָהּ וּלְהַחֲזִיקָהּ וּלְהַחֲיותָהּ, וְיִשְׁלַח לָהּ מְהֵרָה רְפוּאָה שְׁלֵמָה מִן הַשָּׁמַיִם לְכָל אֵבָרֶיהּ וּלְכָל גִּידֶיהָ בְּתוךְ שְׁאָר חולֵי יִשרָאֵל, רְפוּאַת הַנֶּפֶשׁ וּרְפוּאַת הַגּוּף בשבת: שַׁבָּת הִיא מִלִזְּעוק וּרְפוּאָה קְרובָה לָבוא. ביו”ט: יום טוב הוא מִלְזּעוק וּרְפוּאָה קְרובָה לָבוא, הַשְׁתָּא בַּעֲגָלָא וּבִזְמַן קָרִיב. וְנאמַר אָמֵן:

7 Siddur Ashkenaz, Shabbat, Shacharit, Keriat Hatorah, Reading from Sefer, Birkat Hagomel 1

Blessed are You, Eternal our God, Ruler of the universe, who has bestowed every goodness upon me.
סידור אשכנז, שבת, שחרית, קריאת התורה, קריאת התורה, ברכת הגומל א׳

(א) ברכת הגומל: בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’ אֱלהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעולָם. הַגּומֵל לְחַיָּבִים טובות. שֶׁגְּמָלַנִי כָּל טוב:
8. Siddur Ashkenaz, Shabbat, Shacharit, Keriat Hatorah, Reading from Sefer, Birkat Hagomel 2

[The community respond with ]Amen! May the One who has bestowed goodness on you continue to bestow goodness upon you forever!
 

סידור אשכנז, שבת, שחרית, קריאת התורה, קריאת התורה, ברכת הגומל ב׳

(ב) הקהל עונה אמן. ואומרים:

מִי שֶׁגְּמָלְךָ טוב. הוּא יִגְמָלְךָ כָּל טוב סֶלָה:

 

9 Siddur Ashkenaz, Weekday, Maariv, Blessings of the Shema, Second Blessing after Shema (Hashkiveinu)

Lie us down to peace, Adonai our God, and raise us up to life, our sovereign , and spread over us the shelter of your peace, and direct us with good counsel before You, and save us for the sake of your name, and look out for us, and keep enemies, plagues swords, famines, and troubles from our midst, and remove Satan from in front of us and from behind us, and cradle us in the shadow of your wings, for You are God who guards us and saves us, for You are God. Our gracious and merciful sovereign. Guard our going out and our coming to life and to peace, from now and ever more.

(On Weekdays) Blessed are You, Adonai, who guards your People Israel forever.

 

סידור אשכנז, ימי חול, מעריב, ברכות קריאת שמע, השכיבנו

(א) הַשְׁכִּיבֵנוּ ה’ אֱלהֵינוּ לְשָׁלום, וְהַעֲמִידֵנוּ מַלְכֵּנוּ לְחַיִּים. וּפְרוש עָלֵינוּ סֻכַּת שְׁלומֶךָ. וְתַקְּנֵנוּ בְּעֵצָה טובָה מִלְּפָנֶיךָ. וְהושִׁיעֵנוּ לְמַעַן שְׁמֶךָ. וְהָגֵן בַּעֲדֵנוּ: וְהָסֵר מֵעָלֵינוּ אויֵב דֶבֶר וְחֶרֶב וְרָעָב וְיָגון. וְהָסֵר שטָן מִלְפָנֵינוּ וּמֵאַחֲרֵינוּ. וּבְצֵל כְּנָפֶיךָ תַּסְתִּירֵנוּ. כִּי אֵל שׁומְרֵנוּ וּמַצִּילֵנוּ אָתָּה. כִּי אֵל מֶלֶךְ חַנּוּן וְרַחוּם אָתָּה: וּשְׁמור צֵאתֵנוּ וּבואֵנוּ לְחַיִים וּלְשָׁלום מֵעַתָּה וְעַד עולָם: בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’ שׁומֵר עַמּו יִשרָאֵל לָעַד:

 

10

Beit Yosef, Orech Chaim 236

In the Talmud, Rabbi Yochanan says that one needs to follow the evening G’ulah directly with the evening T’filah. We might see Hashkiveinu as a pause, but instead we should see it as an extension of the G’ulah. We should view it just like the preface “Adonai S’fatai, Open my lips,” which was instituted as a part of the T’filah. We see Hashkiveinu as an extension of the G’ulah in that when God plagued Egypt, he caused a great fear upon the people [amidst the darkness]. They prayed to the Holy One, that the Angel of Death would not come to their houses to inflict death upon them. Hashkiveinu is a reminder of the fear the Israelites faced during the time of redemption; therefore it is a part of the ​G’ulah

 

 

11 Jeremiah 15:18

Why must my pain be endless, My wound incurable, Resistant to healing? You have been to me like a spring that fails, Like waters that cannot be relied on.
 

ירמיהו ט״ו:י״ח

(יח) לָ֣מָּה הָיָ֤ה כְאֵבִי֙ נֶ֔צַח וּמַכָּתִ֖י אֲנוּשָׁ֑ה֙ מֵֽאֲנָה֙ הֵֽרָפֵ֔א הָי֨וֹ תִֽהְיֶ֥ה לִי֙ כְּמ֣וֹ אַכְזָ֔ב מַ֖יִם לֹ֥א נֶאֱמָֽנוּ׃ (ס)
12  Jeremiah 17:14

(14) Heal me, Adonai and let me be healed; Save me, and let me be saved; For You are my glory.
ירמיהו י״ז:י״ד

(יד) רְפָאֵ֤נִי יְהוָה֙ וְאֵ֣רָפֵ֔א הוֹשִׁיעֵ֖נִי וְאִוָּשֵׁ֑עָה כִּ֥י תְהִלָּתִ֖י אָֽתָּה׃

 

13 Psalms 41:2-8

 Happy is the one who is thoughtful of the wretched; in bad times may the Eternal keep them from harm. May the Eternal guard them and preserve them; and may they be thought happy in the land. Do not subject them to the will of their enemies.  The Eternal will sustain them on their sickbed; You shall wholly transform their bed of suffering.  I said, “O Adonai, have mercy on me, heal me, for I have sinned against You.”  My enemies speak evilly of me, “When will he die and his name perish?” If one comes to visit, he speaks falsely; his mind stores up evil thoughts; once outside, he speaks them. All my enemies whisper together against me, imagining the worst for me.
תהילים מ״א:ב׳-ח׳

(ב) אַ֭שְׁרֵי מַשְׂכִּ֣יל אֶל־דָּ֑ל בְּי֥וֹם רָ֝עָ֗ה יְֽמַלְּטֵ֥הוּ יְהוָֽה׃ (ג) יְהוָ֤ה ׀ יִשְׁמְרֵ֣הוּ וִֽ֭יחַיֵּהוּ יאשר [וְאֻשַּׁ֣ר] בָּאָ֑רֶץ וְאַֽל־תִּ֝תְּנֵ֗הוּ בְּנֶ֣פֶשׁ אֹיְבָֽיו׃ (ד) יְֽהוָ֗ה יִ֭סְעָדֶנּוּ עַל־עֶ֣רֶשׂ דְּוָ֑י כָּל־מִ֝שְׁכָּב֗וֹ הָפַ֥כְתָּ בְחָלְיֽוֹ׃ (ה) אֲ‍ֽנִי־אָ֭מַרְתִּי יְהוָ֣ה חָנֵּ֑נִי רְפָאָ֥ה נַ֝פְשִׁ֗י כִּי־חָטָ֥אתִי לָֽךְ׃ (ו) אוֹיְבַ֗י יֹאמְר֣וּ רַ֣ע לִ֑י מָתַ֥י יָ֝מ֗וּת וְאָבַ֥ד שְׁמֽוֹ׃ (ז) וְאִם־בָּ֤א לִרְא֨וֹת ׀ שָׁ֤וְא יְדַבֵּ֗ר לִבּ֗וֹ יִקְבָּץ־אָ֥וֶן ל֑וֹ יֵצֵ֖א לַח֣וּץ יְדַבֵּֽר׃ (ח) יַ֗חַד עָלַ֣י יִ֭תְלַחֲשׁוּ כָּל־שֹׂנְאָ֑י עָלַ֓י ׀ יַחְשְׁב֖וּ רָעָ֣ה לִֽי׃
14  Psalms 6

For the leader; with instrumental music on the sheminith. A psalm of David. O Eternal, do not punish me in anger, do not chastise me in fury. Have mercy on me, O Eternal, for I languish; heal me, O Eternal, for my bones shake with terror. My whole being is stricken with terror, while You, Eternal —O, how long! O Eternal, turn! Rescue me! Deliver me as befits Your faithfulness. For there is no praise of You among the dead; in Sheol, who can acclaim You?  I am weary with groaning; every night I drench my bed, I melt my couch in tears. My eyes are wasted by vexation, worn out because of all my foes. Away from me, all you evildoers, for the Eternal heeds the sound of my weeping. The Eternal heeds my plea, the Eternal accepts my prayer. All my enemies will be frustrated and stricken with terror; they will turn back in an instant, frustrated.
תהילים ו׳

(א) לַמְנַצֵּ֣חַ בִּ֭נְגִינוֹת עַֽל־הַשְּׁמִינִ֗ית מִזְמ֥וֹר לְדָוִֽד׃ (ב) יְֽהוָ֗ה אַל־בְּאַפְּךָ֥ תוֹכִיחֵ֑נִי וְֽאַל־בַּחֲמָתְךָ֥ תְיַסְּרֵֽנִי׃ (ג) חָנֵּ֥נִי יְהוָה֮ כִּ֤י אֻמְלַ֫ל אָ֥נִי רְפָאֵ֥נִי יְהוָ֑ה כִּ֖י נִבְהֲל֣וּ עֲצָמָֽי׃ (ד) וְ֭נַפְשִׁי נִבְהֲלָ֣ה מְאֹ֑ד ואת [וְאַתָּ֥ה] יְ֝הוָ֗ה עַד־מָתָֽי׃ (ה) שׁוּבָ֣ה יְ֭הוָה חַלְּצָ֣ה נַפְשִׁ֑י ה֝וֹשִׁיעֵ֗נִי לְמַ֣עַן חַסְדֶּֽךָ׃ (ו) כִּ֤י אֵ֣ין בַּמָּ֣וֶת זִכְרֶ֑ךָ בִּ֝שְׁא֗וֹל מִ֣י יֽוֹדֶה־לָּֽךְ׃ (ז) יָגַ֤עְתִּי ׀ בְּֽאַנְחָתִ֗י אַשְׂחֶ֣ה בְכָל־לַ֭יְלָה מִטָּתִ֑י בְּ֝דִמְעָתִ֗י עַרְשִׂ֥י אַמְסֶֽה׃ (ח) עָֽשְׁשָׁ֣ה מִכַּ֣עַס עֵינִ֑י עָֽ֝תְקָ֗ה בְּכָל־צוֹרְרָֽי׃ (ט) ס֣וּרוּ מִ֭מֶּנִּי כָּל־פֹּ֣עֲלֵי אָ֑וֶן כִּֽי־שָׁמַ֥ע יְ֝הוָ֗ה ק֣וֹל בִּכְיִֽי׃ (י) שָׁמַ֣ע יְ֭הוָה תְּחִנָּתִ֑י יְ֝הוָ֗ה תְּֽפִלָּתִ֥י יִקָּֽח׃ (יא) יֵבֹ֤שׁוּ ׀ וְיִבָּהֲל֣וּ מְ֭אֹד כָּל־אֹיְבָ֑י יָ֝שֻׁ֗בוּ יֵבֹ֥שׁוּ רָֽגַע׃
15 Psalms 121

A song for ascents. I turn my eyes to the mountains; from where will my help come? My help comes from the Eternal, maker of heaven and earth. God will not let your foot give way; your guardian will not slumber; See, the guardian of Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps!  The Eternal is your guardian, the Eternal is your protection at your right hand.  By day the sun will not strike you, nor the moon by night. The Eternal will guard you from all harm; God will guard your life.  The Eternal will guard your going and coming now and forever.
 

תהילים קכ״א

(א) שִׁ֗יר לַֽמַּ֫עֲל֥וֹת אֶשָּׂ֣א עֵ֭ינַי אֶל־הֶהָרִ֑ים מֵ֝אַ֗יִן יָבֹ֥א עֶזְרִֽי׃ (ב) עֶ֭זְרִי מֵעִ֣ם יְהוָ֑ה עֹ֝שֵׂ֗ה שָׁמַ֥יִם וָאָֽרֶץ׃ (ג) אַל־יִתֵּ֣ן לַמּ֣וֹט רַגְלֶ֑ךָ אַל־יָ֝נ֗וּם שֹֽׁמְרֶֽךָ׃ (ד) הִנֵּ֣ה לֹֽא־יָ֭נוּם וְלֹ֣א יִישָׁ֑ן שׁ֝וֹמֵ֗ר יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃ (ה) יְהוָ֥ה שֹׁמְרֶ֑ךָ יְהוָ֥ה צִ֝לְּךָ֗ עַל־יַ֥ד יְמִינֶֽךָ׃ (ו) יוֹמָ֗ם הַשֶּׁ֥מֶשׁ לֹֽא־יַכֶּ֗כָּה וְיָרֵ֥חַ בַּלָּֽיְלָה׃ (ז) יְֽהוָ֗ה יִשְׁמָרְךָ֥ מִכָּל־רָ֑ע יִ֝שְׁמֹ֗ר אֶת־נַפְשֶֽׁךָ׃ (ח) יְֽהוָ֗ה יִשְׁמָר־צֵאתְךָ֥ וּבוֹאֶ֑ךָ מֵֽ֝עַתָּ֗ה וְעַד־עוֹלָֽם׃
16 Psalms 130

(1) A song of ascents. Out of the depths I call You, O God. (2) O God, listen to my cry; let Your ears be attentive to my plea for mercy. (3) If You keep account of sins, O God, who will survive? (4) Yours is the power to forgive so that You may be held in awe. (5) I look to the Eternal; I look to God; I await God’s word. (6) I am more eager for the Eternal than watchmen for the morning, watchmen for the morning. (7) O Israel, wait for the Eternal; for with the Eternal is steadfast love and great power to redeem. (8) It is God who will redeem Israel from all their iniquities.
תהילים ק״ל

(א) שִׁ֥יר הַֽמַּעֲל֑וֹת מִמַּעֲמַקִּ֖ים קְרָאתִ֣יךָ יְהוָֽה׃ (ב) אֲדֹנָי֮ שִׁמְעָ֪ה בְק֫וֹלִ֥י תִּהְיֶ֣ינָה אָ֭זְנֶיךָ קַשֻּׁב֑וֹת לְ֝ק֗וֹל תַּחֲנוּנָֽי׃ (ג) אִם־עֲוֺנ֥וֹת תִּשְׁמָר־יָ֑הּ אֲ֝דֹנָ֗י מִ֣י יַעֲמֹֽד׃ (ד) כִּֽי־עִמְּךָ֥ הַסְּלִיחָ֑ה לְ֝מַ֗עַן תִּוָּרֵֽא׃ (ה) קִוִּ֣יתִי יְ֭הוָה קִוְּתָ֣ה נַפְשִׁ֑י וְֽלִדְבָר֥וֹ הוֹחָֽלְתִּי׃ (ו) נַפְשִׁ֥י לַֽאדֹנָ֑י מִשֹּׁמְרִ֥ים לַ֝בֹּ֗קֶר שֹׁמְרִ֥ים לַבֹּֽקֶר׃ (ז) יַחֵ֥ל יִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל אֶל־יְה֫וָה כִּֽי־עִם־יְהוָ֥ה הַחֶ֑סֶד וְהַרְבֵּ֖ה עִמּ֣וֹ פְדֽוּת׃ (ח) וְ֭הוּא יִפְדֶּ֣ה אֶת־יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל מִ֝כֹּ֗ל עֲוֺנֹתָֽיו׃

 

17II Chronicles 16:12-13

(12) In the thirty-ninth year of his reign, Asa suffered from an acute foot ailment; but ill as he was, he still did not turn to the Eternal but to physicians. (13) Asa slept with his fathers. He died in the forty-first year of his reign
דברי הימים ב ט״ז:י״בי״ג

(יב) וַיֶּחֱלֶ֣א אָסָ֡א בִּשְׁנַת֩ שְׁלוֹשִׁ֨ים וָתֵ֤שַׁע לְמַלְכוּתוֹ֙ בְּרַגְלָ֔יו עַד־לְמַ֖עְלָה חָלְי֑וֹ וְגַם־בְּחָלְיוֹ֙ לֹא־דָרַ֣שׁ אֶת־יְהוָ֔ה כִּ֖י בָּרֹפְאִֽים׃ (יג) וַיִּשְׁכַּ֥ב אָסָ֖א עִם־אֲבֹתָ֑יו וַיָּ֕מָת בִּשְׁנַ֛ת אַרְבָּעִ֥ים וְאַחַ֖ת לְמָלְכֽוֹ׃
18 I Kings 17:17-22

(17) After a while, the son of the mistress of the house fell sick, and his illness grew worse, until he had no breath left in him. (18) She said to Elijah, “What harm have I done you, O man of God, that you should come here to recall my sin and cause the death of my son?” (19) “Give me the boy,” he said to her; and taking him from her arms, he carried him to the upper chamber where he was staying, and laid him down on his own bed. (20) He cried out to the Eternal and said, “O Eternal my God, will You bring calamity upon this widow whose guest I am, and let her son die?” (21) Then he stretched out over the child three times, and cried out to the Eternal, saying, “O ETERNAL my God, let this child’s life return to his body!” (22) The Eternal heard Elijah’s plea; the child’s life returned to his body, and he revived.
מלכים א י״ז:י״זכ״ב

(יז) וַיְהִ֗י אַחַר֙ הַדְּבָרִ֣ים הָאֵ֔לֶּה חָלָ֕ה בֶּן־הָאִשָּׁ֖ה בַּעֲלַ֣ת הַבָּ֑יִת וַיְהִ֤י חָלְיוֹ֙ חָזָ֣ק מְאֹ֔ד עַ֛ד אֲשֶׁ֥ר לֹא־נֽוֹתְרָה־בּ֖וֹ נְשָׁמָֽה׃ (יח) וַתֹּ֙אמֶר֙ אֶל־אֵ֣לִיָּ֔הוּ מַה־לִּ֥י וָלָ֖ךְ אִ֣ישׁ הָאֱלֹהִ֑ים בָּ֧אתָ אֵלַ֛י לְהַזְכִּ֥יר אֶת־עֲוֺנִ֖י וּלְהָמִ֥ית אֶת־בְּנִֽי׃ (יט) וַיֹּ֥אמֶר אֵלֶ֖יהָ תְּנִֽי־לִ֣י אֶת־בְּנֵ֑ךְ וַיִּקָּחֵ֣הוּ מֵחֵיקָ֗הּ וַֽיַּעֲלֵ֙הוּ֙ אֶל־הָעֲלִיָּ֗ה אֲשֶׁר־הוּא֙ יֹשֵׁ֣ב שָׁ֔ם וַיַּשְׁכִּבֵ֖הוּ עַל־מִטָּתֽוֹ׃ (כ) וַיִּקְרָ֥א אֶל־יְהוָ֖ה וַיֹּאמַ֑ר יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהָ֔י הֲ֠גַם עַל־הָאַלְמָנָ֞ה אֲשֶׁר־אֲנִ֨י מִתְגּוֹרֵ֥ר עִמָּ֛הּ הֲרֵע֖וֹתָ לְהָמִ֥ית אֶת־בְּנָֽהּ׃ (כא) וַיִּתְמֹדֵ֤ד עַל־הַיֶּ֙לֶד֙ שָׁלֹ֣שׁ פְּעָמִ֔ים וַיִּקְרָ֥א אֶל־יְהוָ֖ה וַיֹּאמַ֑ר יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהָ֔י תָּ֥שָׁב נָ֛א נֶֽפֶשׁ־הַיֶּ֥לֶד הַזֶּ֖ה עַל־קִרְבּֽוֹ׃ (כב) וַיִּשְׁמַ֥ע יְהוָ֖ה בְּק֣וֹל אֵלִיָּ֑הוּ וַתָּ֧שָׁב נֶֽפֶשׁ־הַיֶּ֛לֶד עַל־קִרְבּ֖וֹ וַיֶּֽחִי׃
19 II Kings 20:1-7

(1) In those days Hezekiah fell dangerously ill. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz came and said to him, “Thus said the Eternal: Set your affairs in order, for you are going to die; you will not get well.” (2) Thereupon Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Eternal. He said, (3) “Please, O Eternal, remember how I have walked before You sincerely and wholeheartedly, and have done what is pleasing to You.” And Hezekiah wept profusely. (4) Before Isaiah had gone out of the middle court, the word of the Eternal came to him: (5) “Go back and say to Hezekiah, the ruler of My people: Thus said the Eternal, the God of your father David: I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears. I am going to heal you; on the third day you shall go up to the House of the Eternal. (6) And I will add fifteen years to your life. I will also rescue you and this city from the hands of the king of Assyria. I will protect this city for My sake and for the sake of My servant David.”— (7) Then Isaiah said, “Get a cake of figs.” And they got one, and they applied it to the rash, and he recovered.—
מלכים ב כ׳:א׳-ז׳

(א) בַּיָּמִ֣ים הָהֵ֔ם חָלָ֥ה חִזְקִיָּ֖הוּ לָמ֑וּת וַיָּבֹ֣א אֵ֠לָיו יְשַׁעְיָ֨הוּ בֶן־אָמ֜וֹץ הַנָּבִ֗יא וַיֹּ֨אמֶר אֵלָ֜יו כֹּֽה־אָמַ֤ר יְהוָה֙ צַ֣ו לְבֵיתֶ֔ךָ כִּ֛י מֵ֥ת אַתָּ֖ה וְלֹ֥א תִֽחְיֶֽה׃ (ב) וַיַּסֵּ֥ב אֶת־פָּנָ֖יו אֶל־הַקִּ֑יר וַיִּ֨תְפַּלֵּ֔ל אֶל־יְהוָ֖ה לֵאמֹֽר׃ (ג) אָנָּ֣ה יְהוָ֗ה זְכָר־נָ֞א אֵ֣ת אֲשֶׁ֧ר הִתְהַלַּ֣כְתִּי לְפָנֶ֗יךָ בֶּֽאֱמֶת֙ וּבְלֵבָ֣ב שָׁלֵ֔ם וְהַטּ֥וֹב בְּעֵינֶ֖יךָ עָשִׂ֑יתִי וַיֵּ֥בְךְּ חִזְקִיָּ֖הוּ בְּכִ֥י גָדֽוֹל׃ (ס) (ד) וַיְהִ֣י יְשַׁעְיָ֔הוּ לֹ֣א יָצָ֔א העיר [חָצֵ֖ר] הַתִּֽיכֹנָ֑ה וּדְבַר־יְהוָ֔ה הָיָ֥ה אֵלָ֖יו לֵאמֹֽר׃ (ה) שׁ֣וּב וְאָמַרְתָּ֞ אֶל־חִזְקִיָּ֣הוּ נְגִיד־עַמִּ֗י כֹּֽה־אָמַ֤ר יְהוָה֙ אֱלֹהֵי֙ דָּוִ֣ד אָבִ֔יךָ שָׁמַ֙עְתִּי֙ אֶת־תְּפִלָּתֶ֔ךָ רָאִ֖יתִי אֶת־דִּמְעָתֶ֑ךָ הִנְנִי֙ רֹ֣פֶא לָ֔ךְ בַּיּוֹם֙ הַשְּׁלִישִׁ֔י תַּעֲלֶ֖ה בֵּ֥ית יְהוָֽה׃ (ו) וְהֹסַפְתִּ֣י עַל־יָמֶ֗יךָ חֲמֵ֤שׁ עֶשְׂרֵה֙ שָׁנָ֔ה וּמִכַּ֤ף מֶֽלֶךְ־אַשּׁוּר֙ אַצִּ֣ילְךָ֔ וְאֵ֖ת הָעִ֣יר הַזֹּ֑את וְגַנּוֹתִי֙ עַל־הָעִ֣יר הַזֹּ֔את לְמַֽעֲנִ֔י וּלְמַ֖עַן דָּוִ֥ד עַבְדִּֽי׃ (ז) וַיֹּ֣אמֶר יְשַֽׁעְיָ֔הוּ קְח֖וּ דְּבֶ֣לֶת תְּאֵנִ֑ים וַיִּקְח֛וּ וַיָּשִׂ֥ימוּ עַֽל־הַשְּׁחִ֖ין וַיֶּֽחִי׃

20

Hezekiah continued: I have received a tradition from the house of my father’s father, from King David, the founding father of the dynasty of kings of Judea: Even if a sharp sword rests upon a person’s neck, he should not prevent himself from praying for mercy. One may still hold out hope that his prayers will be answered, as was David himself when he saw the Angel of Destruction, but nonetheless prayed for mercy and his prayers were answered.  (Berachot 10a)

21

Physicians Prayer (attributed to Maimonides)

[daily prayer of a physician before visiting his patients, translated from a Hebrew manuscript of a celebrated Hebrew physician of the 12th century. Translation reprinted from Dr. Harry Frieden­ wald, Johns Hopkins Hospital Bulletin, August, 1917.]

Almighty God, You have created the human body with infinite wisdom. Ten thousand times ten thousand organs have You combined in it that act unceasingly and harmoniously to preserve the whole in all its beauty the body which is the envelope of the immortal soul. They are ever acting in perfect order, agreement and accord. Yet, when the frailty of matter or the unbridling of passion deranges this order or interrupts this accord, then the. forces clash and the body crumbles into the primal dust from which it came. You send to humanity diseases as beneficent messengers to foretell approaching danger and to urge him to avert it.

You have blest Your earth, your rivers and Your mountains with healing substances; they enable Your creatures to alleviate their sufferings and heal their illnesses. You have endowed us with the wisdom to relieve the suffering of his brother, to recognize his disorders, to extract the healing substances, to discover their powers and to prepare and to apply them to suit every ill.. In Your Eternal Providence You have chosen me to watch over the health and the life of Your creatures. I am now about to apply myself to the duties of my profession. Support me, Almighty God, in these great labours that they may benefit humankind, for without Your help not even the least thing will succeed.

Inspire me with love for my art and for Your creatures. Do not allow thirst for profit, ambition for renown and admiration, to interfere with my profession, for these are the enemies of truth and of love for humankind and they can lead astray in the great task of attending to the welfare of Your creatures. Preserve the strength of my body and of my soul that they ever be ready to cheerfully help and ·support rich and poor, good and bad, enemy as well as friend. In the sufferer let me see only the human being. Illumine my mind that it recognize what presents itself and that it may comprehend what is absent or hidden. Let it not fail to see what is visible, but do not permit it to arrogate to itself the power to see what cannot be seen, for delicate and indefinite are the bounds of the great art of caring for the lives and health of Your creatures. Let me never be absent minded. May no strange thoughts divert my attention at the bedside of the sick, or disturb my mind in its silent labours, for great and sacred are the thoughtful deliberations required to preserve the lives and health of Your creatures.

Grant that my patients have confidence in me and my art and follow my direction and my counsel. Remove from their midst all charlatans and the whole host of officious relatives and know-all nurses, cruel people who arrogantly frustrate the wisest purposes of our art and often lead Your creatures to their death.

Should those who are wiser than I wish to improve and instruct me, let my soul gratefully follow their guidance; for vast is the extent of our art. Should conceited fools, however, censure me, then let love for my profession steel me against them, so that I remain steadfast without regard for age, for reputation, or for honour,- because surrender would bring to Your creatures sickness and death.

Imbue my soul with gentleness and calmness when older colleagues, proud of their age, wish to displace me or to scorn me or disdainfully to teach me. May even this be of advantage to me, for they know many things of which I am ignorant, but let not their arrogance give me pain. For they are old, and old age is not master of the passions. I also hope to attain old age upon this earth, before You, Almighty God!

Let me be contented in everything except in the great science of my profession. Never allow the thought to arise in me that I have attained to sufficient knowledge, but vouchsafe to me the strength, the leisure and the ambition ever to extend my knowledge. For art is great, but the mind of humanity is ever expanding.

 

  22 (A DAY OF DISTRESS

A day of distress and anguish,

and I think of your message.

You’re fair,

and justice shapes your mouth and heart.

5 I remember your words which calmed me

when trouble came near,

and hope for your view and deliverance.

In all of your goodness you’d sent your servant—

in bed, still a boy—

10 seraphs to greet me.

They sat alongside me, and Micha’el spoke:

Thus saith the Eternal, who contends in your cause:

When you pass through the waters I will stay you,

and the rivers will not overwhelm you

15 when your enemies come.

And Gabriel, too, his companion

beside your chariot,

heard of my fate and reported:

When you wade through fire you will not be burned;

20 I will speak to the flame which will not harm you.

These are words I’ve held like a sword.

Though I stand before swords, I count on your blade.  Shmuel haNagid

(HaNagid, Shmuel and Peter Cole.  Selected Poems of Shmuel HaNagid. Princeton University Press, 2016.)

23 HIS BROTHER’S ILLNESS

And my uncle Isaac fell ill, God have mercy upon him,

in the year 4801 [1041], and his heart went out to him and he said:

My limbs thicken with

strong premonition,

and my vision

blurs with tears as it sharpens;

and grief is budding 5

along my mind,

like weeds after

rains that smother the furrows.

Pleasure recedes

and sickens me now. 10

What good is sweetness

when one’s brother lies ill?

Let me make account

and not, my Eternal, him, for my weakness.

If I err — 15

would you punish another?

Then what of the error,

remaining within?  (Shmuel haNagid, loc cit)

 

 

 

24 The Chief Rabbi’s Prayer  (Rabbi Ephraim Mervis)

20th March 2020/24th Adar 5780    The Chief Rabbi has composed this special prayer to be recited at home at a time of your choosing. In addition, Psalms 91, 121 and 130 can be added.

אָבִינוּ שֶׁבַּשָמַּיִם   Heavenly Father,

We turn to You at this time of deep global concern, to bestow Your mercy upon all the inhabitants of our vulnerable world, which is now so seriously afflicted.

Almighty God, who sustains the living with lovingkindness, supports the fallen and heals the sick, grant consolation to the bereaved families and send a speedy and complete recovery to all who have contracted the virus, as the Prophet Jeremiah declared:

כִי אַּעֲלֶׁה אֲרֻכָה לָךְ וּמִמַּכוֹתַּיִךְ אֶׁרְפָאֵךְ, נְאֻם השם

“For I will restore health unto you, and I will heal you of your wounds, says the Eternal”.

Bless with strength those who are suffering. Bless with resilience those in isolation. Bless with hope those who are despondent. Bless with wisdom all those who seek a cure and bless with compassion all those who offer comfort.

Bless the leaders of our nations. Give them and their advisors knowledge and foresight to act with wisdom and sincerity for the wellbeing of all whom they serve.

Bless the doctors, nurses, all healthcare professionals and key workers who tirelessly seek to heal and help those affected, while in so doing put themselves at risk.

Open our hearts in prayer and our hands in generosity to guarantee that the physical distance this virus creates between us will be bridged through compassion and kindness.

Almighty God of healing and hope, at this time of heightened global awareness of our mutual interdependence, enable all of humankind to appreciate the strength that comes from being united in concern and love, rather than divided with hate and prejudice. As we look to the future, may You endow all people with the capacity to build and sustain societies of unity, tolerance, harmony and peace.

O Eternal, our Rock and Salvation, lead us speedily from despair to hope, from fear to trust and from the dread of death to the celebration of life.

וַּאֲנִי תְפִלָתִי-לְךָ השם, עֵת רָצוֹן

May this prayer of mine come before You at a propitious time.

וְכֵן יְהִי רָצוֹן

And may this be Your will, Amen.

 

25Proverbs 3:8

(8) It [trust in God] will be a cure for your body, A tonic for your bones.
משלי ג׳:ח׳

(ח) רִ֭פְאוּת תְּהִ֣י לְשָׁרֶּ֑ךָ וְ֝שִׁקּ֗וּי לְעַצְמוֹתֶֽיךָ׃
26 Proverbs 4:20-22

(20) My child, listen to my speech; Incline your ear to my words. (21) Do not lose sight of them; Keep them in your mind. (22) They are life to him who finds them, Healing for his whole body.
משלי ד׳:כ׳-כ״ב

(כ) בְּ֭נִי לִדְבָרַ֣י הַקְשִׁ֑יבָה לַ֝אֲמָרַ֗י הַט־אָזְנֶֽךָ׃ (כא) אַל־יַלִּ֥יזוּ מֵעֵינֶ֑יךָ שָׁ֝מְרֵ֗ם בְּת֣וֹךְ לְבָבֶֽךָ׃ (כב) כִּֽי־חַיִּ֣ים הֵ֭ם לְמֹצְאֵיהֶ֑ם וּֽלְכָל־בְּשָׂר֥וֹ מַרְפֵּֽא׃
27 May it be Your will, O our God,

that we be allowed to stand in places of astonishing light

and not in dark places,

and may our hearts know no pain,

and may our vision not be so clouded

that we would not see all the blessings of Life

that You have given us.

(Rabbi Alexandrai’s prayer (or the prayer of Rav Himnuna)  Berachot 17a)

 

28 Rav Dimi said,

“Whoever visits one who is ill contributes significantly

to that person’s recovery. (Nedarim 40a)

 

29 One who feels pain in his head should engage in Torah study, as it is stated: “For they shall be a graceful wreath for your head.” One who feels pain in his throat should engage in Torah study, as it is stated: “And chains about your neck.” One who feels pain in his intestines should engage in Torah study, as it is stated: “It shall be health to your navel” (Proverbs 3:8). One who feels pain in his bones should engage in Torah study, as it is stated: “And marrow to your bones” (Proverbs 3:8). One who feels pain in his entire body should engage in Torah study, as it is stated: “And health to all their flesh” (Proverbs 4:22).  (Eruvin 54a)
30

A Prayer for the Health and Healing of Healer

May the One who blessed our ancestors

Bless all those who put themselves at risk to care for the sick

Physicians and nurses and orderlies

Technicians and home health aides

EMTs and pharmacists

And bless especially / an individual or other categories of health workers/

Who navigate the unfolding dangers of the world each day,

To tend to those they have sworn to help.

Bless them in their coming home and bless them in their going out.

Ease their fear. Sustain them.

Source of all breath, healer of all beings,

Protect them and restore their hope.

Strengthen them, that they may bring strength;

Keep them in health, that they may bring healing.

Help them know again a time when they can breathe without fear.

Bless the sacred work of their hands.

May this plague pass from among us, speedily and in our days.

— Rabbi Ayelet S. Cohen, March 2020

 

 

31 from AJC haggadah Passover Prayer in the Age of Coronavirus

Why is this night different from all other nights? Why is this Passover different from all other Passovers?

On this Passover, when a pandemic threatens our collective health on an unimaginable scale, we are called to respond with the power of our humanity, with the Divine spirit implanted within us, with our legacy of hope and determination to prevail.

We pray for the at risk, the isolated, the stricken, the mourners.

We pray for those who have dedicated their lives to keeping us healthy—doctors, nurses, health-care workers—and all who sustain our hospitals and health-care institutions— existing and makeshift—operating under trying circumstances.

We pray for the first responders—police officers, fire fighters, military personnel who have been marshalled to the cause—all who are responsible for the safety of our communities.

We pray for our elected officials, who can save lives with wise leadership.

May God bless all of our public servants and watch over them.

On this Passover, when so many are separated from one another at a traditional time of being together, we reach out to one another with renewed love and compassion. When someone is missing from our Seder table, we tell their story as if they are with us. When there is personal sadness, we respond with communal solidarity, empathy, and fortitude.

On this Passover, not “all who are hungry can come and eat” and not “all who are in need can come and celebrate Passover.” In response, we commit all the days of our year to a heightened awareness of Passover’s values—to freeing the enslaved, to feeding the hungry, to sheltering the homeless, to supporting the poor. We rededicate ourselves to rekindling and cherishing our Passover traditions for all the years of our future, when light will overcome darkness, when health will overcome infirmity.

Dear God, “Spread over us Your canopy of peace . . . Shelter us in the shadow of Your wings . . .Guard us and deliver us. . . Guard our coming and our going, grant us life and peace, now and always.”

“This year we are slaves, next year we will be free.”gadns • AJC Director of Interre    A Seder Responsive Reading in the Age of Coronavirus

As we fill our four cups of wine, we pray for a time when our cups will yet again be overflowing.

As we wash our hands, we affirm our role in protecting ourselves and others.

As we dip in salt water, we cry the tears of a planet besieged.

As we break the matzah, we long to be made whole.

As we ask the four questions, we search for the answers that elude us.

As we remember the ten plagues, we contemplate our own.

As we imagine our own redemption from Egypt, we aspire to be free.

As we sing Dayenu, we beseech, may our efforts to combat this pandemic be enough.

As we eat the matzah, we contemplate our impoverished state.

As we consume the bitter herbs, we empathize with another’s pain.

As we enjoy the haroset, we remember the sweetness which awaits us.

As we search for the afikomen, we pray to be connected to our missing pieces.

As we welcome Elijah, we pray for redemption.

As we sing songs of praise, we remain grateful for all of God’s gifts.

 

 

 32 A Prayer for a Person Isolated from a Loved One Due to Coronavirus

by  Rabbi Marci Bloch

Hold me God…hold me now.

I am afraid.

My (husband/ wife/ sister /brother /child /mother /father /loved one) is alone, and my heart is breaking.

I want so bad to hold his/ her /their hand and comfort him /her /them—

but I can’t.

Help me to know that even though I am not physically there with him/ her/them….

I am very much there.

Give me hope, oh God.

Help me to put all my trust in his/her/ their doctors and his/ her/their medical staff to make the right decisions.

Fill my loved one’s lungs with air and restore him/her to life.

Protect him/ her/ them, watch over him/ her /them, heal him /her /them.

Give me strength, oh God in this hour of darkness to know you are there holding me.

Amen.

 

 

33 PRAYER FOR THE CORONAVIRUS CRISIS

Eternal One, Rock of our lives, we turn to you in the midst of this coronavirus crisis, seeking refuge and a foothold – and also encouragement as we try to find our own courage.

As social distancing prevents us from experiencing the joys of life in community, may the need to withdraw and stay well be accompanied by the urge to reach out to others with compassion and care and to forge and renew connections, even in the absence of physical contact.

Recalling the trials of those who went before us and their endurance and survival, may we find the strength to endure even in the face of pain and loss, and the insight to know that this challenging time will pass.

As the natural world renews itself, may we be inspired by the wonders and marvels of the Earth to discover through this crisis pathways to renewal and new hope.

And let us say: Amen.

Rabbi Elli Tikvah Sarah   Brighton& Hove Progressive Synagogue March 2020 – Adar 5780

 

34 Prayer during Coronavirus TimesEternal Our God, Source of our life and our Sovereign, be a shield about us, turning away every disease and destruction. Grant us hope and a future of shalom, peace. Be merciful over us and grant recovery to everyone, because You are the most kind and compassionate Sovereign of all.

Blessed are You, who listens to the prayers.

שְמַע יִשְרָאֵל יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ יְהוָה אֶחָֽד

אָנָּא יְהוָה, הוֹשִׁיעָה נָּא;

אָנָּא יְהוָה, הַצְלִיחָה נּ

God, we beseech You, save us now!

God, we beseech You, let us prosper!

 

(Rabbi Andrea Zanardo, Brighton and Hove Reform Synagogue, March 2020)

 

35 This evening, we join with the rest of the world in praying for a quick and positive end to the crisis in which we find ourselves. We pray for those who are sick and dying, and for those tending to their care.

We pray for their families, and for those who are most anxious about getting sick.

We pray for leaders faced with making difficult choices with lasting consequences.

We pray for students whose hopes for celebrating their accomplishments have been thwarted.

We pray for all those in the work-force who have been – and who will be – directly impacted by the need for social-distancing.

Tonight, I offer a prayer that comes to us from our liturgy, which we call “Hashkiveinu.” It is a nighttime prayer that asks God for protection and blessing. It seems fitting to offer these words tonight:

 

הַשְׁכִּיבֵֽנוּ, יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽנוּ, לְשָׁלוֹם, וְהַעֲמִידֵנוּ שׁוֹמְרֵֽנוּ לְחַיִּים

 

Grant, O God, that we lie down in peace, and raise us up, our Guardian, to life renewed. Spread over us the shelter of Your peace. Guide us with Your good counsel; for Your Name’s sake, be our help. Shield and shelter us beneath the shadow of Your wings. Defend us against enemies, illness, war, famine and sorrow. Distance us from wrongdoing. For You, God, watch over us and deliver us. For You, God, are gracious and merciful. Guard our going and coming, to life and to peace evermore.”

 

36 Out of the depths I call to you, God hear my prayer.  I face the unknown and the unknowable and I cannot do this alone.  It is said that You formed human beings in wisdom, creating our bodies complex and sensitive for us to live through in fullness, and yet so sensitive and complex that it may become impossible for us to remain alive should some small change occur in them.  And so I wait for You, my soul waits and hopes for You to answer. My soul waits for You more than ever before because I cannot do this alone.  I desire life, I love the days I live, I want to have more of them. To feel again the sunshine on my skin, to see again the happiness of the faces of those I love, to look forward again with pleasure. And now I sit in the depths, in the cool dark of the now, and my soul waits for the morning and for You. You are said to be the healer of all flesh, so I ask You now for healing.

And should Your answer come to tell me the future will not be mine, then be with me, redeem my soul and let me take refuge in You, for none who take refuge with you shall remain in the depths. (Sylvia Rothschild: Prayer in illness and distress)

Korach: reading the Bad Boys of the Exodus can help with the Bad Boys of Brexit

Reading Bible reminds us again and again that people are the same, whatever age they live in, and that politics is also essentially unchanged over the centuries. Some people have principles, others appear to have only causes, and one repeatedly seen cause is sadly that of increasing their own power and status.

Yes, they will dress it up – in a tub-thumping speech to the leader they may say “you are taking too much on yourself, all the people are holy” or they may use the language of the demagogue explicitly reminding others that only they are following “the will of the people” and everyone else is betraying them. Often the speaker is privileged and wealthy, yet somehow acts as if they are one of the less advantaged, and speak against some notionally distant and uncaring governing elite.

So Korach, cousin of Aaron and Moses, was a member of the tribe of Levi, singled out for special status. The midrash tells us that he was very wealthy (indeed the phrase “as rich as Korach” in Hebrew equates with the modern slang “filthy rich” and Bemidbar Rabba 18:15 tells us that Korach was the comptroller in Pharaoh’s palace and was in charge of the keys of his treasuries, and later on is clear that he was not the most disinterested or honest supervisor, but took many of the riches for himself (Bemidbar Rabba 22:7)   And yet his language implies that he is simply the spokesperson for the downtrodden and ignored, as he whips up a populist movement to his own agenda.

There can be no doubt that Korach is one of the “Bad Boys of the Exodus”. And of course he gets his comeuppance, as the duel of the firepans of incense leads the rebels to their unnatural deaths while Aaron and his family are confirmed in the priesthood and the copper from the firepans is to be used to plate the altar to remind everyone that the priesthood is of the family of Aaron (See Numbers 17)

God, having taken out the leadership of the rebellion, is keen to finish the job, sending a plague upon the whole community, and Aaron and Moses have to rush to help save them from the consequences of this rebellion.

Sometimes bible has a way of speaking to the current moment in an eerie and extraordinary way. Here in the UK we have our demagogues, almost to a man wealthy and privileged and with a deep urge to seize power. The leadership of the Brexit project – the “Bad Boys of Brexit” are generally personally wealthy, have a background of privilege in terms of education and family connections, and have manipulated people who have been ignored or suppressed into somehow believing that they are just like them. The newspapers they write for or control drip poisonous xenophobic tropes, see the European Union as other, indeed as enemy. They deliberately whip up the ideas of treason, seeing enemies and betrayal everywhere. For years stories about “the other” have published which show the poor patriotic English person being cheated, lied to, ignored in favour of foreigners.  Forget the ideology of working for European peace, if you read these papers you would believe that laws are imposed on us by foreigners who don’t consult, don’t expect us to have a voice, don’t care about us, only about our money which they want from us. These years have done their work, the mob are roused, with threats of violence against anyone with a different narrative, from Members of Parliament down. And real violence against anyone perceived as “other”. For me the nadir was the headline “enemies of the people” in the Daily Mail (4.11.17), with photos of three High Court Judges who “defied {the} Brexit voters” and who could trigger a constitutional crisis. What had the Judges done? They had ruled that Parliament must be consulted before the Government could trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which would start the UK’s formal process of EU withdrawal.

In the story of Korach, the rebels are spectacularly –and unnaturally – dealt with, going down into the bowels of the earth which then closed over them. But the continued effect of their poison and lies meant that God was prepared to continue cleansing the people – by plague. It took the desperate interventions of Moses and Aaron to change that terrible outcome, and to get the people once more back on track to achieve their goal, of entry into the Promised Land.  We learn from this that the power of the rabble rouser and demogague continues long after they have stopped. It takes courage and thoughtful intervention, facing the problem and the poison and combatting it with a different narrative, to slowly root out the worst of it.

But the human desire for grabbing power and for seeing others as foreign or other does not go away. It must be recognised and it must be contained, for it will never leave us. There will always be those who rise up in every generation to pervert justice and kindness for their own benefit and we need to be aware of this and on our guard, fighting and fighting for the values of understanding our shared humanity, of having compassion for the other  rather than fear or hatred.  It is interesting to see that some psalms are written by the bnei Korach – the sons or descendants of Korach. Korach does not go away, but becomes part of the community – and we have to be aware that the tropes of Korach’s rebellion are still entwined within our groups.

How our current situation, of growing populist movements and politicians will end, we don’t yet know.  We see that the language of snide demagoguery continues, we see that wealth has been acquired through odd and secretive ways from outside the community (just as Korach had appropriated his wealth immorally from Egyptian stores). We see parties or individuals gaining power by whipping up xenophobia and hatred while implying that they are on the side of the poor and dispossessed.  No God is going to come and cause the earth to open – we are on our own with this one. But we should take heart from the biblical text. Ultimately Korach loses, the people are back on track and the violence and plague abates. It takes work and pain and fear and tears. But ultimately Korach will lose again.

 

 

Chukkat: Obituary for Miriam the Prophetess and one of the leadership triumvirate

We have learned this week of the death of Miriam bat Amram v’Yocheved of the tribe of Levi. Born in Egypt, the oldest child in the family with two younger brothers Aaron and Moses, Miriam kept faith with the religious tradition of her ancestors in the darkest times, even prophesying the birth of her youngest brother Moses and predicting that he would be the one who would deliver their people to freedom (BT Sotah11- 12b). Along with her brothers she was part of the leadership that brought the Hebrew slaves out of Egypt and into the desert. Sadly she has not lived to see the end of the journey, but her leadership – particularly of the women – was critical to its success.

Miriam had a particular affinity with water. Even her name reminds us of it, variously translated as ‘bitter seas’ (Mar Yam) or even “doubled water” (depending on whether one sees the letters mem reish as deriving from bitterness or of water. We first meet her at the water’s edge, saving her little brother Moses adrift in the Nile reeds. (Exodus 2:4-9) She is a powerful figure at the Sea of Reads and her song of praise became the basis for the rather more famous (and more fully recorded in bible) song of her brother, Shirat haYam. (Exodus 15) Luckily the Dead Sea Scrolls have recorded more of her verses than the biblical editor thought fit to include.(4Q365).  And of course we must not forget Miriam’s well which followed her in the wilderness and which provided much needed refreshment for the Children of Israel, was a miracle provided because of her merit. (Ta’anit 9a).

Bible called her a prophet and indeed Miriam was a great prophet of Israel, though sadly she has no book named for her prophesies, an oversight to be much deplored.

Her name might also allude to the idea of rebellion – a role model for all Jews, Miriam thought for herself and did not acquiesce to the ideas of others without challenge. It was this characteristic that gave her the will to challenge her parent’s decision (and that of the other Jewish adults) to no longer have relations in order that no children would be born – some say that they all divorced so as to prevent a new generation being born into slavery. But Miriam’s refusal to be party to this pessimistic arrangement meant that not only did she and her brother Aaron dance and sing at the remarriage of their parents, but that other families followed suit. Her rebellious spirit was vital in keeping the people alive and hopeful. (BT Sotah 12a; Mekhilta de-Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai 6). Indeed such was her role in preserving the last generation to be born in Egypt, there are some who say that the midwife Puah was in fact Miriam herself.  In part this connects to her rebellious nature. There are those who say that she was insolent (hofi’ah panim – lifted her face) toward Pharaoh when she heard his edict to kill all baby boys born to the Hebrew women, and looked down her nose at him. She told him: “Woe to you on the Day of Judgment, when God will come to demand punishment of you.” Pharaoh was so enraged at her behaviour that he wanted to kill her. She was saved only because Yocheved intervened, saying “Do you take notice of her? She is a baby, and knows nothing” (Ex. Rabbah, 1:13).  Miriam found it hard to keep her mouth shut at that, but luckily she did so.

While it is not clear who Miriam married – indeed if she married at all – there are some who say she married Caleb and other who say she married her uncle Uzziel. Clearly these marriages were unimportant in the public sphere in which she worked, but it is said that her children were sages and kings because she had stood up to the evil decree of Pharaoh and also persuaded the Hebrews to continue to procreate. Bezalel is said to have descended from her, as is King David.

While this writer does not see the need to describe family for Miriam – either to explore whether she married or had children – it is gratifying that the midrashic tradition felt, in its own terms, that she deserved to be rewarded for her integrity and willingness to speak truth to power. We note that the sons of Moses walk out of history and that two of Aaron’s sons offer strange fire to God, with only the younger two continuing into priesthood, with its ultimately difficult and chequered history.

Miriam was musical, a great timbrel player, and a wonderful song leader and dancer who lifted the spirits of all who saw her. Her liveliness and optimism, coupled with a strong character and a willingness to speak out, make her a superlative role model for Jews everywhere. Her association with water, the living waters from which everything can draw its sustenance, is no accident. Water flows where it will, as did Miriam.

Even when Miriam criticised the fact that her brother Moses had married a Cushite woman and apparently put away Zipporah, the wife of his youth and mother of his two sons, she did so from a position of integrity, challenging her younger brother’s autocratic behaviour and as a result of her good and close relationship with Zipporah, a Midianite woman married into the Israelite leadership family (Sifrei on Numbers 12). She was concerned that Moses was no longer visiting Zipporah who was thus condemned to having no marital comfort and would not be able to bear more children.(Avot de R.Natan ch 9; Sifrei Zuta 12:1; sifra Metzorah 5).

While she was smitten with a skin disease as punishment for the harshness of her words, it must be noted that the whole camp waited for her to heal before moving on. For seven days even the Shechinah, as well as the priests and the Israelites stayed in camp while her tzara’at took its course (Mishnah Sotah 1:9) and it is well understood that this exceptional treatment was a reward for her work supporting Moses as a baby and enabling him to be reunited safely with is mother as his wet nurse, as well as helping in the leadership of the people in the many desert years.

While Miriam died on tenth of Nisan in Kadesh in the wilderness of Tzin, (Sifrei on Devarim 305) her death is recorded here in Chukkat along with that of Aaron. All three of the siblings are buried on the heights of Avarim close to the land of Israel, and Miriam, like her brothers  would later, died by the kiss of God as her soul was gently drawn back from her body (BT baba batra 17a), an ending known as the death of the righteous.

She will not be forgotten. In modern times she is remembered at the Pesach seder with a Cup of Miriam filled with water, and a special prayer; while others add a piece of fish to the seder plate to reference her particular affinity with water.

Sadly however the characteristics of Miriam are sometimes hidden from view or even actively ignored – her prophecy and the determination she had to make her voice heard by people more senior than her are a fundamental part of her character. She spoke out, her voice was heard and followed – in both her capacity to advise and in her song leading, even if her brother then took credit for some of her best works. She was not quiescent in the face of a community that didn’t want change, or that was prepared to put up with injustice and oppression. She was active in both the birth and the rearing of Moses, keeping faith with her idea that here was a child who could be a leader and redeemer of the people. She was an equal partner in leadership, she had her own ideas and her own way of going about things. She was nobody’s ‘yes woman’. Her integrity, her strength of character, her fluidity, her determination to keep life happening, all meant that Miriam’s was a voice that shaped the people, she was heard in the public space, she was respected even when she sometimes said things in a less than careful way, she was warm and caring and people knew it. Moses could be distant, his shyness and insecurities causing him to hide away sometimes. Aaron could be arrogant in his priestly garments and status. But Miriam was accessible to the people and they loved her for it, as she spoke out on their behalf and fought for their rights.

Both the editors of the received text and the creators of midrash have not always dealt kindly with her. There is a rabbinic propensity to see her as bitter or as rebellious to the established order, her voice (already edited at the song of the sea) is not heard again in bible after the episode of the tzara’at; her death is reported without ceremony or sadness.  There are some notable exceptions to the blurring of Miriam in history. The prophet Micah tells us of God’s comment “I sent before you Moses, Aaron and Miriam” (6:4). I cannot help but think that her gender was a problem to later commentators and redactors, something that sadly continues to this day. Yet Miriam is described in bible as a prophet, she sings her own song, she leads the people and she keeps her brothers safe and in relationship with the people.  She is patently a popular leader. When we lose Miriam we lose a righteous and able leader. When we lose the stories of her we risk losing the participation of modern women in the public sphere, rebellious, sassy, open, fluid, willing to speak truth to power and to challenge both adversaries and relatives who would rather we were quiet.

Some women have suggested fasting on the tenth of Nisan as her yahrzeit. That is fine should women want to do this, but I would suggest that we would do her greater honour by speaking out, by rebelling against injustice and against the desire to push women into the private and domestic sphere where they might more easily be controlled, and by bringing the swirling waters of justice and of challenge into the society in which we live.

Parashat Korach : The women behind the men emerge. Take a bow Ms On ben Pelet

The rebellion of Korach is a powerful and pivotal moment in Torah, as the leadership of Moses and Aaron is challenged by their cousin who proclaims that they have taken too much of the power for themselves, that all the people were holy, and Moses and Aaron are raising themselves up above the ‘kehal adonai’ the community of God.

With Datan and Abiram the sons of Eliav, and On the son of Pelet, all of them grandchildren of Reuben the oldest son of Jacob, Korach the great grandson of Levi, third son of Jacob and ancestor of Moses and Aaron, musters 250 men of stature – this is emphasised in the text: “n’si’ei eidah, k’ri’ei mo’ed, anshei shem – princes of the congregation, elect men of the community, men of renown”.

The testosterone level is so high in this story we can practically smell it. The clashing of antlers of the big beasts jousting for power and control. There might be a pretence about the need for all the people to be recognised as holy, but the reality is clear that this is a palace coup, and Moses doesn’t know what to do.

A great deal has been written about this, but I want to focus today on one of the more minor characters, On ben Pelet. Because while he is there at the beginning of the revolution he is missing from its denouement. And he doesn’t appear again.  The other rebels go down into the yawning pit as the earth opens, On ben Pelet however simply disappears from history.  Why?

The midrash provides a wonderful explanation. His wife gets involved. In this testosterone soaked challenge the men have essentially lost the plot. Where there are reasonable grounds for saying that Moses and Aaron have taken on too much of the leadership, there is no accountability and there is no transparency, the plotters went too far themselves, scenting regime change. It takes, in the view of the midrash, the calm and thoughtful intervention of the women we never really see (except as witnesses to the divine destruction of the hard line conspirators).

Talmud tells us this: (BT Sanhedrin 109b-110a)

“Rav said: On, the son of Pelet was saved by his wife. Said she to him, ‘What matters it to you? Whether the one [Moses] remains master or the other [Korach] becomes master, you will be nothing but a disciple.’ He replied, ‘But what can I do? I have taken part in their counsel, and they have sworn me [to be] with them.’ She said, ‘I know that they are all a holy community, as it is written, “seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them. [So,]’ she proceeded, ‘Sit here, and I will save you.’ She gave him wine to drink, intoxicated him and laid him down inside [the tent]. Then she sat down at the entrance and loosened her hair. Whoever came [to summon him] saw her and retreated. Meanwhile, Korach’s wife joined them [the rebels] and said to him [Korach], ‘See what Moses has done. He himself has become king; his brother he appointed High Priest; his brother’s sons he made vice High Priests. If Terumah is brought, he decrees, Let it be for the priest; if the tithe is brought, which belongs to you [i.e., to the Levite], he orders, Give a tenth part of it to the priest. Moreover, he has had your hair cut off, and makes sport of you as though you were dirt; for he was jealous of your hair.’ Said he to her, ‘But he has done likewise!’ She replied, ‘Since all the greatness was his, he said also, Let me die with the Philistines. Moreover, he has commanded you, Set [fringes] of blue wool [in the corners of your garments]; but if there is virtue in blue wool, then bring forth blue wool, and clothe your entire academy with it.  And so it is written, Every wise woman builds her house — this refers to the wife of On, the son of Pelet; but the foolish plucks it down with her hands — to Korach’s wife.”

The Talmudic midrash sees the minor figure of On ben Pelet, notices his disappearance by the end of the story, and pins this on the even more minor figures of “the wives”.

The unnamed wife of On ben Pelet is a politician to her fingertips. She can see that her husband is of lowly status and is never likely to amount to much. Whoever wins in the rebellion, he will never be an important part of the hierarchy. He isn’t much of a catch, one gets the feeling, but he is hers and she would rather he were alive than dead. Whether this is love or not is irrelevant, his fate would have repercussions on her status, she does not want to be the widow of a dissident – that would make her even more vulnerable than she is now.

So, in time honoured fashion, she gets him drunk. We think of Boaz and Ruth, of Noah and his daughters, of Yael and Sisera – when a woman wants to get a man pliant and to do her bidding it seems, the answer is to ply him with intoxicants. The drunken On ben Pelet is ushered into the tent to sleep it off. But this is still not enough to ensure he doesn’t rouse and put himself – and her – into danger. So she sits at the entrance with loosened hair – immodest, sexually charged, a terror to the scouts who may come to demand his presence. Like Rachel she uses her body to prevent anyone coming to search. And her husband slumbers on all unknowing.

On ben Pelet is, in the story, a nudnik, a schlemiel, scion of a great family maybe, but incompetent and easily led. He needs all the skills of his competent wife to survive. And it would be lovely if the midrash ended there. But no, the Talmud having decided on a verse in Proverbs (14:1) feels the need to explicate the other half of it.

“Every wise woman builds her house; but the foolish plucks it down with her hands.”

The wise woman here is clearly aligned with the wife of On ben Pelet, but who is the foolish wife? After all, 250 men joined Korach, Datan and Abiram in the failed rebellion.

It is interesting to me that the midrash decides that the parallel is with the wife of Korach – the main protagonist in this affair. And more than that, they give her great knowledge and legalistic reasoning – this is an educated woman able to debate and hold her point.

She begins first with the nepotism: Moses has made himself king. He has made his brother the High Priest, he has made his brother’s sons vice High Priests – something that is new to this text. Then when the Terumah offering is brought, it is immediately taken up by his own close family. This food (or oil or wine) can only be eaten by the Cohanim. Korach being only a Levite, is not permitted to have use of it.

Then she points out the tithing which would go to the Levites – Moses had set a limit of a tenth to go to the priests.

Then she moves on to the cut hair done as part of the purification rites. Before her husband can object she layers meaning over it – Moses was jealous of Korach’s lovely hair. He now laughs at him once the hair is cut off and Korach is, presumably, less attractive. No matter that Moses also had his hair cut according to Korach, his wife clearly believes that the impact on Moses was much less than that on her husband. Moses comes out the winner.

Now she moves onto ritual grievances. Moses had told them to wear blue threads on the fringes of their garments, but this is simply tokenistic in her eyes – if blue is to be worn as a mark of honour, then the whole garment should be blue. Otherwise, her reasoning seems to be, there is no real honour, just pretence, a token and perfunctory nod to the status of her husband; Korach is damned by faint praise and his wife notices.

She is painted as an intelligent and ambitious woman. Curiously she too seems to have the upper hand in the relationship – and she gives Korach the intellectual underpinnings for his challenge.

But her ambition for her husband is too much. He is not a strategist, not really a leader. Having made his alliances his own thirst for power comes through – why else would On ben Pelet feel uneasy having agreed to join the alliance? Korach cannot deviate from the path he is on. He doesn’t seem to realise that the atmosphere is changing, that his leadership is doomed.

His wife too is given no more voice. Who knows whether she had she would have been able to persuade her husband to reverse his challenge. Instead we see from the text that Datan and Abiram, their wives and children, stand at the doorways of their tents; And we see the earth opening and everything that pertained to Korach was swallowed up alive into the pit. The 250 men who were offering their own incense were destroyed by divine fire. Yet curiously Korach and his wife are not mentioned in the text as explicitly as Datan and Abiram were. Did Mrs Korach have one last trick up her sleeve? Did they melt away from the scene of destruction they had caused, in the hope of living to fight another day?

Elisheva: challenging the patriarchal structure with her mixed feelings. Parashat Va’era

Early in the sidra is a partial genealogy, which leads us rapidly to the Levitical line. A genealogy of the Levites takes us from Levi through Kohat to Amram father of Aaron and Moses. Unusually, three women are named in this genealogy:

Amram married Yocheved the sister of his father, and she gave birth to Aaron and Moses (Miriam is not mentioned here).

Aaron married Elisheva, the daughter of Amminadav, the sister of Nachshon; and she bore him Nadav and Avihu, Eleazar and Itamar.

Eleazar Aaron’s son took him one of the daughters of Putiel to wife; and she bore him Pinchas.

It is unusual for the wives to be named in these genealogies and so we must explore this further to see what Torah is trying to tell us.   Amram and Yocheved are nephew and aunt –both descendants of Levi, so Aaron and Moses are, so to speak, doubly Levitical.

It is not clear who Putiel is – he appears only here. Nor do we know how many daughters he had, or the names of any of them.

But Elisheva is given a much fuller ‘yichus’ – she is the daughter of Amminadav, the sister of Nachshon and we know from later in bible that her tribe therefore is that of Judah.  Not much is known of Amminadav, but Nachshon features further in text and tradition.  We learn in the book of Numbers that under God’s instruction, Nachshon ben Amminadav was appointed by Moses as ‘Nasi’, leader/prince of the Tribe of Judah (Num. 1:7), to stand with Moses and to help him lead the people.  We can also see that through Boaz he will be a direct ancestor to King David; and curiously he sits exactly half way in the biblical genealogy that leads directly from Judah to David.

Because of his descent from Judah and his many regal descendants, Nachshon is praised in the rabbinic literature. Most famously – even though the biblical text does not mention him there – he is said to have shown real faith at the Reed Sea. The Israelites having left Egypt after the final plague, found themselves trapped. In front of them was the water and behind them the furious pursuing army. They complained bitterly to Moses asking why he had brought them there only to die in the wilderness.  And while they were standing there, each one angrily refusing to go further, and while Moses was praying to God for help, Nachshon ben Amminadav jumped into the water and when it reached his nostrils, the waters parted. (BT Sotah 36a; Mechilta Beshalach)

This is the brother of Elisheva, a man apparently of great qualities – and as Elisheva is introduced to us as his sister – an unnecessary addition in the generational genealogy- it is assumed that something else is being alluded to here beyond the blood relationship. Elisheva brings into the Priestly line that will descend from her and Aaron the qualities of leadership embodied by her own family which will provide the Royal line.

Elisheva will give birth to the four sons of Aaron, two of whom, Nadav and Avihu, will suffer a terrible and violent death shortly after being inducted into the priesthood. The other two will continue the hereditary line of the Cohanim – the Jewish priests.   She is, with Aaron, the root of the priestly tradition. And she also brings together the two formal leadership roles within the biblical tradition – she brings the royal line of Judah which is already generations old, (Judah having been blessed by Jacob on his deathbed as being the Royal line), together with the brand new line of hereditary priesthood.

Elisheva is understood in tradition to be a woman who had reason for great pride and joy by virtue of her relationships to male leaders:  The Talmud (Zevachim 102a) tells us that on the day of the inauguration of the Mishkan “Elisheva had five additional joys over other daughters of Israel. She was the sister-in-law of the king (Moses), the wife of the High Priest (Aaron), her son (Elazar) was the segan (deputy high priest), her grandson (Pinchas) was anointed for war, and her brother (Nachshon) was a prince of the tribe of Judah [and the first of the twelve tribal leaders to make a gift offering for the inauguration]  One can add to this list that it was Betzalel ben Hur her nephew  of the tribe of Judah, who was the architect appointed by God to build the Mishkan.

Talmud however goes on to note “yet she was bereaved of her two sons”

I find this extraordinary. The Talmudic text is well aware that Elisheva, like Aaron, is bereaved of two of her adult children in a moment – destroyed when beginning their work as priests, but offering strange fire before God. We don’t really understand what happened here – were they drunk? Idolatrous? Inefficient?  Improperly dressed? – but we do understand that they die instantly. And we also understand that while a male response is described to these deaths, (Moses speaks to Aaron about God’s demands for the priesthood, Aaron is silent, Mishael and Elzaphan the sons of Uzziel the uncle of Aaron are instructed to bring the bodies out of the mishkan and put them outside the camp, Elazar and Itamar are instructed about their priestly duties, along with Aaron…) Nothing is said about the response of Elisheva, the mother of the dead boys.

Aaron is famously silent – we are told this and it is understood that he is able to accept that the greater good of the priesthood is more important than the individual fates of his two sons. But his enigmatic silence is at painful odds with the complete erasure of the response of Elisheva. I cannot for a moment imagine that she would have taken the deaths quite so phlegmatically.

In the Midrash (Vayikra Rabba 20:2) we see the situation from the viewpoint of Elisheva. “Elisheva, the daughter of Amminadav, did not enjoy happiness in this world. True, she witnessed the five crowns [attained by her male relatives] in one day…but when her sons entered to offer incense and were burnt, her joy was changed to mourning.”

The Midrash not only allows her mourning, it accepts that the deaths of her sons affected her profoundly so that even the achievements of her other male relatives would not give her any happiness.  Mourning as a parent is all-consuming. It is not ever something that one can recover fro;  the best that can happen is that joy can once again be experienced tinged with sadness, with an awareness that life is incomplete and will remain so.

Elisheva, the woman who brings together the lines of power and leadership – monarchy and priesthood, who is the foremother therefore of all those who have to care for the people, who have to lead it thoughtfully and in is best interest; Elisheva, matriarch and founding spirit of all the leaders whose job is to serve, to provide security, to be thoughtful about the impact of their decisions in the wider world –  brings not only the qualities of power that leadership needs, she brings another quality – the awareness of incompleteness and imperfection that we must live with.

It is a truism that peace/shalom is never fully here – the most we have is an absence of conflict and we must work to stop such conflict breaking out and gaining ascendancy. Our hope for each other uses the prefix le – leshalom, TOWARDS shalom, rather than b’shalom –IN/WITH peace because we are constantly striving towards it – we only reach our individual shalom when we are dead, as the biblical language confirms.  It is also true that every joy we have in life is good but it is temporary and it is always susceptible to change. We live in a world of uncertainty and entropy, change will happen and we must be able to cope with it.

Elisheva had so much in life – she came from a successful and value driven family, she married into another one, she had children and grandchildren, she features (albeit briefly) in bible. But as the midrash tells us, she did not enjoy happiness in this world, she lived in the liminal space where the pain of her mourning, and her awareness of the continuing fragility of the lives of those we love can  tinge, if not overshadow all happiness.

At a Jewish wedding there is a tradition to break a glass at the end of the ceremony. There are many reasons given – to scare away demons who may be lurking and to remember the destruction of the Temple  are two of the most famous, but the most likely is to remind everyone in the room that joy is transitory and good times must be enjoyed when we encounter them.

Life is hard and we shall all encounter a mixture of good and bad, of ease and difficulty, of problems and effortlessness as we go through it.  We will all meet difficulties, many of us will face fear and anxiety, some of us will have to deal with tragedy. We cannot allow fear or pain or sadness to overwhelm us but neither must we suppress the realities that they exist.

Elisheva encountered both extreme highs and lows of life. Bible is silent on her way of dealing with it, but rabbinic tradition uses her as a model, in the full knowledge that the people it is writing for would also face good times and bad, and needed to find resilience beyond that of blind faith. Elisheva lives on after the tragedy of the deaths of her sons, she continues to experience joy and sadness, she is able to experience both but neither of them can be untouched by the other. She is a human being who copes with life.

The name Elisheva can mean either “my God has sworn an oath” or it can mean “my God has satisfied”. What is the oath that is sworn? That God will remain our God through the ages, through good times and bad. And in what way is Elisheva ‘satisfied’? She has had a lot of good in her life, which enables her to deal also with the bad.

We learn from Elisheva that we can both enjoy life and mourn for what we no longer have, or might never have. We must live with the mingling of light and dark, knowing that each will tinge the other but each must be lived through. We learn that holding a constant sense that we are still connected to God, even in the dark times, even when may be afraid or sad or even angry with God, will help us through our lives.

No one gets away with a life that has no loss and no pain. No one escapes pain – it is an elemental human condition and closely allied to the ability to love. The men around Elisheva take refuge in their status, but Elisheva stands out, a scion of the royal line, the mother of priests. She may appear to have everything, but what matters can be taken away in a heartbeat and then the “everything” shows what it truly is – momentary, material, and irrelevant. Elisheva reminds us that relationships not only underpin our lives, they provide connection and the place to be ourselves. Everything else will pass.

Chukkat: the fully lived life is not about length, but about limits or serious anger, serious consequences

The shadow of death hovers over parashat Chukkat.  It begins with the instructions for the ritual slaughter of the red heifer, and the cleansing rituals that those who had contact with a dead body must follow, and it records the deaths of both Miriam and of Aaron. It tells of the deaths by plague of those who rebelled against Moses’ leadership and it ends with two mighty battles.

One can read the whole Sidra as being about the coming to terms with mortality, and the limits of human existence.

At the centre of the Sidra is a powerful story which also deals with the limits of a human being. We hear of an incident which seems on the face of it quite minor, yet which has far reaching impact.  After the death of Miriam, the people complain about the lack of water, and God commands Moses to take Aaron’s  rod – the one which sprouted leaves and flowers when left overnight in the Mishkan – and with that miraculous sign in his hand, to order a rock to produce water in front of all the people waiting there.  Moses does indeed take the rod, but instead of using words, he strikes the rock. He seems to be at the end of his patience, angry and fed up with the people he is leading. Water gushes out at his action, but God informs him that because of his behaviour, he will not now enter the land he is leading the people towards.

It has been said about Moses that all of his sins – whether the impulsive murder of the Egyptian task master in his youth, the breaking of the stones containing the commandments, or the striking of the rock – show elements of anger and violence, of his unbridled self will and of his temporarily ignoring the real and present will of God.  A modern commentator (Rabbi Norman Hirsch) wrote that “the sin of Moses at Meribah is characteristic of the man, one of a series of sins, and serious. Why serious? Because civilization depends upon humility.  Without a sense of limits that flows from the awareness of a moral law and an ethical God, every brutality, every corruption, every atrocity becomes possible”

When people allow themselves to act without limitations, to let their anger overtake them, and to forget the reality of other people – their needs, their fears, their humanity – then atrocities not only become possible, they become inevitable. Once humility is overridden, and once people forget that God’s will is rooted in moral and ethical imperatives rather than in pride or land or material  success – then there are no boundaries, and our own characteristics and needs take over for good or for ill.

Moses fails ultimately in the job he has been set to do. His failure is in his unwillingness to control the righteous indignation he feels on behalf of God.  It shows itself in his need to demonstrate to others the rightness of his analysis.  His failure doesn’t lie in the feeling of anger as such, but in the way he uses it and allows it to use him.  In this story the demise we are witnessing isn’t to do with physical death, nor with a metaphysical response to the end of life – this time the fatality is Moses’ leadership and his ability to take the people into their next stage of the journey.  Because Moses shows that he is unable to change himself, his anger is ultimately stronger than him, and because he doesn’t seem to believe any more that he should rein his emotions in to prevent doing damage around himself, his leadership will come to a premature end.

Anger is not in and of itself a negative emotion.  Anger against an injustice can be a powerful propellant for change.  It can be a constructive force leading to a different way of being in the world.  Jewish tradition does not judge anger negatively, nor does it preach a tradition of humility for the sake of it.  If anything the two sentiments are simply different sides of the same coin, and either of them used to the exclusion of the other are likely to produce unfortunate events.  But anger that is allowed to dominate, anger that clouds the vision to such an extent that nothing else can be seen, is a very dangerous quality, and not even Moses could be allowed to indulge himself in it.

The thread that runs through the narrative here in Chukkat is that of the limits to a life.  Einstein wrote that “there is a certain satisfaction in the fact that natural limits are set to the life of an individual so that at its conclusion it may appear as a work of art”, and certainly in retrospect one can often discern a pattern that may not have been obvious during the living of the life – a pattern that suddenly shows a completeness not otherwise seen.  This is certainly the case both with Aaron and with Miriam, who leave nothing of importance undone by the time of their deaths. But for Moses this is sadly not true – he never deals fully with that all consuming rage and so it breaks out repeatedly in his life – one can even see traces of it in his resistance to dying and to passing on his authority to Joshua.  One lesson we learn is that length of life is not necessarily the same as fully lived life – in 120 years Moses is still unable to resolve his issues satisfactorily and even God becomes weary.   Moses limits his own life because he pays attention only to his own feelings and not to those of the people around him. It remains a flaw in his character to the end, and something that niggles us as we read torah to this day.  How come Moses wouldn’t – or couldn’t – overcome it? And if he couldn’t do it – what chance do we have with our own character flaws?

I suppose the answer lies in the continuation of the story. After Moses’ outburst God tells him that because of it he will not be leading the people into the Promised Land. At that point Moses would have been justified in giving it all up, but instead he seems to have picked himself up and found a way to continue leading the people to their destiny – even while knowing that he would not now share in it.

He shows that his vision can still be clear, that he can get over his attacks of despair or of rage and function as a proper leader, leaving his own needs to one side.

The story of Moses’ striking of the rock challenges us to look at our own characters, our own willingness to forgo humility in favour of some more selfish need, our own repeated patterns of behaviour.  It reminds us of the needs for limits – both those which emerge from a sense of an ethical God, and the boundaries around our own existence – both of which should contain any excesses we might otherwise consider.  The story reminds us too of the force that anger has that can mask any self awareness or awareness of the other, the way we can forget the humanity of the people around us – with tragic consequences should we go on to act on that ignorance.  And it reminds us of the power of keeping going, even when the future may seem dark and hopeless, for in that keeping going some redemption may come.

Beha’alotecha: the silencing of Miriam and the Cushite woman

And Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married; for he had married a Cushite woman.” (12:1)

 

 

She is the ultimate object, critical to the narrative but without voice or name. She exists only in passivity – the woman that Moses had taken.  Ha’Isha HaKushite, black and female, her presence in the text is enough to irritate Miriam and Aaron, but not enough to make any statement of her own.  Only her femaleness and her blackness are remarkable, and both are cause to keep her powerless. The unseen narrator sets her up against Miriam, the powerful sister of the man to whom she is married, a woman earlier described as a prophetess – yet Miriam too is demeaned and diminished in this interaction.

 

Framed between the story of the false prophesying of Eldad and Medad, and the divine statement that only Moses’ prophecy is entirely trusted, this is a story about real and illusory power and the two women are ciphers, literally seen in black and white, silenced .

 

Miriam is described as challenging Moses “on account of the Cushite woman he has taken as wife”, even while the speech reported to us is about the equal prophetic status of the triumvirate of siblings: “Has the Eternal indeed spoken only with Moses?  Has God not spoken also with us?’    And it is noticeable that Miriam alone is punished, even though Aaron had joined her in asserting their status in relation to Moses. Why does the narrator divert our attention towards race and gender when the issue is about the leadership of Moses and the relative status of his sibling co-leaders?

 

We never learn more about the Cushite woman, about when Moses married her, about her story and how she came to be with the Israelites and the mixed multitude leaving Egypt. We know that ancient civilisations were racially diverse and there is a buried history of black Egyptians which only now is being recognised by scholars, but our modern categories of race are not those of the ancient world. Her description as Cushite signifies only that this is not Zipporah, Moses’ Midianite wife.

 

It is sometimes said that the story of Miriam and the Cushite woman proves that God has a sense of humour, that Miriam who complained about this black interloper is given her comeuppance by God when her skin is turned white as snow with the impurity of tzara’at. And her anger at her relative loss of leadership status leads to her exclusion from the community, put outside of the camp until her skin heals once more. Comical reversals of fortune.

 

But there is a murkier thread to this tale. For now both women are silenced, both passive recipients of the narrators attention.  Aaron, who confesses their joint sin, is not only unpunished for his part in challenging Moses’ authority but joins together with him in prayer for her healing, leading the people who are anxiously awaiting her return to camp. Both women are now out of action, their skin colour and their gender apparently rendering them unsuitable for a role in the public space. The power of the men is enhanced.

 

A Jewish friend of mine, married to a black woman, once told me that their fights usually ended up with her telling him he could always take off his kippah and ‘pass’ in society, but she could never take off her skin, echoing Jeremiah who asks “Can an Ethiopian/Cushite person change their skin, or a leopard their spots?” (Jer13:23) Some things about us are the first thing that people see, and sometimes those people never get past that attribute. Never notice the person inhabiting that skin.  Sometimes they dismiss the person because of the characteristic, ignoring them or silencing them, putting them ‘outside the camp’, not hearing their voice or recognising their cause.

Whatever we might wish, society is neither colour nor gender blind. But noticing characteristics should not lead to disadvantaging their bearers.

 

The prophet Amos had God ask “Are you not like the Children of the Ethiopians to me, O Children of Israel?”  Bible reminds us that our common humanity is recognised by God who sees beyond the outer aspects. But it also reminds us that we often fail to see that shared humanity for ourselves, that we categorise and judge by gender and by race, and those who are so judged can find themselves trapped without voice or power to change the perception.

 

We never find out the fate of the unnamed woman from Ethiopia, but we do have one shaft of light at the end of this story. The people wait for Miriam to be healed and brought back to the camp before they move on. She may be chastened, but Miriam is back in the public space, and one day she may yet sing with her unnamed black sister, their voices raised up – and heard and responded to by all.

 

 

First published in Jerusalem Report The People and the Book 2015

image “Miriam The Leper” by Rose Rosenthal http://imajewnation.org/the-museum/past-events/freedom-imagined-freedom-lived/part-3/