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)

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 Shelach Lecha: The faith of women is overlooked and the result is catastrophic

וַיְדַבֵּ֥ר יְהוָֹ֖ה אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֥ה לֵּאמֹֽר: ב שְׁלַח־לְךָ֣ אֲנָשִׁ֗ים וְיָתֻ֨רוּ֙ אֶת־אֶ֣רֶץ כְּנַ֔עַן אֲשֶׁר־אֲנִ֥י נֹתֵ֖ן לִבְנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל אִ֣ישׁ אֶחָד֩ אִ֨ישׁ אֶחָ֜ד לְמַטֵּ֤ה אֲבֹתָיו֙ תִּשְׁלָ֔חוּ כֹּ֖ל נָשִׂ֥יא בָהֶֽם:

God tells Moses to send men to travel round the land of Canaan, which God is giving to the children of Israel – one man from each ancestral tribe, each one a leader.

So begins the tale of the spies, whose return from reconnoitering the land  bringing stories of the hopelessness of the enterprise led to the people to become so disheartened that the story of the Israelites entering their promised land may easily have ended right here.  Certainly it becomes clear that the people are not yet ready to take the next step, and a prolonged sojourn in the wilderness as a new generation grows and takes over is necessary.

At first sight it seems a bit of an own goal – God tells Moses to send the men, trusted leaders who are – as Rashi says, commenting on the use of the word “anashim” – important and also righteous.  And yet the failure of leadership – apart from the perspectives of Joshua and Caleb – is catastrophic for the generation of the exodus.

The traditional commentators are interested in this story, in what went so badly wrong that the trajectory of the narrative was skewed and the journey that should have taken a short time ended up being one that took forty years.

Clearly there is a problem with the spies. Firstly comes the question of “shelach lecha” – a phrase that sounds so close to the divine commandment to Abraham “lech lecha”, and yet unlike Abraham’s journey of trust in God and of his own spiritual and material growth, this journey seems to be the exact opposite.

The casual reader might assume that a military reconnoitre of the land God is giving would be simple good practise. After all, even though God says “I am giving the land to the Children of Israel”,  surely a back-up plan is sensible.   But the reader trained to read through the Jewish texts will see this differently.

“Shelach lecha” – send “for yourself” – this is not something that God needed Moses to do, it was something that Moses and the children of Israel needed to do. Unlike  “Lech lecha” – Go to/for yourself” this is not a journey of discovery of the self, it is a journey to allay the fears the self already has. It bespeaks a lack of trust in God. The midrashic traditions picks this up – sending the men is a demonstration of lack of faith in God, but there is a further question we must ask. God is telling Moses not to simply have faith, but saying “you can send if you must”.

In the retelling of the story in Deuteronomy (1:20-46) it becomes clear from Moses’ speech that the request to send men does not come from God but from the people.  Moses tells the story like this “Behold, the Eternal your God has set the land before you, go up and take possession of it as the Eternal, the God of your ancestors told you. Do not fear and do not be dismayed. And you came to me, all of you, and said “Let us send men before us so that they will look out the land for us and bring us word of the way by which we should go up, and the cities we will encounter. And it seemed a good idea to me, and I took twelve men of you, one man for every tribe….”

This now begs the question, if it seemed not unreasonable that the people might want to know more about the land, and God – while not requiring this – did not command against it, then who SHOULD have been sent up to see the lay of the land?

The clue lies in the context of the story. It takes place just after the story of Miriam and the Cushite woman, where Miriam seems to be punished for speaking falsely, for asserting her own importance at the expense of another, and for showing lack of respect for others. A lesson needs to be learned, the question is – who has learned it?

Fantastically Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim ben Aaron Luntschitz, (1550 – 1619) the scholar and poet and writer of his own Torah commentary (Kli Yekar) asks this question and answers it: Who should have been sent? The women!

He bases his opinion on a number of midrashic stories where it is the women who show themselves to have more faith than the men. They continue to have babies even when the Egyptian authorities try to murder their new-borns and their men refuse to have sexual relations with them. They protect their baby sons in this time. They refuse to give up their jewellery at first when the golden calf is created.  So when faith is really needed, it is the women who provide it.

The Kli Yekar notes that when the spies bring back their report of the difficulty of taking the land which is well protected and whose people look strong and powerful, the men revolt and want to return to Egypt.  In Chapter 14 the text is clear that while all the people wept, it was the men who said “why did God bring us to this land to fall by the sword, our wives and children will be prey, it would be better to return to Egypt. So they said to each other, let us appoint a leader and let us return to Egypt” (1:2-4). This establishes the lack of faith of the men for the Kli Yakar who goes on to compare this behaviour with that of the daughters of Zelophechad who specifically ask to be able to own the land of their father who had died without a male heir. For Rabbi Luntschitz this shows – along with all the other examples of women’s faith – that the faith of women is superior to that of the men, and hence if Moses had really wanted to send people on this errand that demonstrated a lack of complete faith in God, he should have sent women who would not have fallen so easily into the fearfulness and desire to return to Egypt rather than go forward into the land.

For the Kli Yekar Moses made a disastrous decision that was informed more by his prejudice about men’s roles and women’s roles and less by any empirical observation as to who had shown real faith in God.  Had Moses sent women to spy out the land (and it doesn’t seem to worry him that women might be functioning as army scouts, unlike some of today’s rabbonim) then they would have returned with the information and framed it in the same hopeful and faithful way that Joshua and Caleb did – it is a tough land to conquer but God is with us.

Add to this that the women have seen what happened to Miriam when she was banished with a skin complaint for her ungracious behaviour that had asserted her importance over the Cushite woman – they know that God is watching closely, that trusting in God is important.

But the men – Moses among them – are caught up with their own status. They are princes, they are leadership, they are important – they are anashim.  They have learned nothing, neither about God’s continued presence nor about humility and faith. Shelach lecha – it is all about them.  And when it fails, the answer is to find another leader from among their ranks and return to business as usual, go back to the safety of the slave routine of Egypt.

As the orthodox world continues to struggle with the role of women, perpetually trying to find ways to put us out of the public space and to assert the norms of the patriarchy, it is sobering to read the thoughts of one rabbi from the 16th century who recognised the need for women to come into the public space and be acknowledged for their own selves.

The Kli Yekar takes his name from the book of Proverbs 20:15 “Gold there is, and rubies in abundance, but lips that speak knowledge are a rare jewel”

He is indeed a rare jewel, he speaks from within the tradition and he speaks a deep truth. Almost all commentators agree that God did not want Moses to send anyone to scout out the land – it was an act of lack of faith. But if someone did have to go to reassure the people, send people whose faith you can trust in- and who better in this case than the people who have demonstrated again and again their trust in God and in a better future?  – The women of the exodus.

Zipporah: unsung heroine of parshat Yitro

The sidra is named for Yitro, the priest of Midian and father of seven daughters and indeed Yitro deserves the honour for he takes in the fugitive Moses, provides him with shelter, with work and with a wife – his daughter Zipporah, and he teaches him a great deal about leadership and about relationship with God.

But it is his daughters I would like to focus on, and in particular the long suffering Zipporah.

Moses, having fled the wrath of Pharaoh after he had killed an Egyptian taskmaster, fled to Midian and sat down by a well. The verse repeats one verb – וַיֵּשֶׁב – “to sit or to stay”, which alerts us to pay close attention. Rashi quotes midrash: – the first “staying” means that he settled in Midian, and the second that he deliberately sat near the well. Just as Jacob met Rachel and Eliezer found Rebecca at a well, it seems clear that Moses was intending to find himself a partner. Sure enough, he meets and subsequently helps the seven daughters of the priest of Midian who have come to get water for their father’s flocks. Having filled the troughs with water for their animals, the women are chased away by the shepherds – something that is apparently their usual experience as after Moses helps them they arrive home earlier than usual, an event noted by their surprised father.

Why do the shepherds chase the girls away? Scripture gives us no clue, but midrash comes to our rescue. According to Shemot Rabbah (1:32), the priest of Midian had abandoned idolatry and so had been excluded from the community, and his daughters were treated harshly because of this ban. It is a curious lacuna in the text,  tantalising us with the unexplained punitive treatment of the vulnerable daughters of a man of status even while appearing not to care very much.  At this point we do not know the name of their father, only that he is a “cohen Midian”, a priest of Midian.

Unlike the meetings that lead to the marriages of Rachel and Rebecca there seems to be no special relationship created between Moses and any of the women at the well. Indeed they do not invite him back to their home in order to thank him with their hospitality, but they leave him at the well; indeed the encounter would end there except that  their father asks what has happened that  they are back earlier than usual. Only then do they recount the event, and their father exclaims at their omission and tells them to call Moses in order to offer him a meal. Laconically the text then tells us that  “Moses was וַיּוֹאֶל – willing or content to stay with the man, and he gave Zipporah his daughter to Moses”. Having met all seven daughters without being given any sense of their individuality or their difference, we now find that one of the daughters is given as a wife to Moses. There has been no courtship, no sense that they were interested in each other or found any connection with each other, Zipporah is simply an object here, given to the “ger Toshav” and she bears him a child whom he (not she) names Gershom, a signifier of Moses’ experience as a stranger in a strange land. It is not indicative of any closeness of relationship or belief in a shared future through the child.

Zipporah is almost invisible. She appears to have no agency whatsoever, no personality is evinced and no relationship with Moses on show. All we have is her name – which probably derives from the root meaning ‘bird’- in particular a sparrow, and seems to gloss the meaning that she is unremarkable and unappreciated.

But our next meeting with Zipporah changes all of that.

While acting as shepherd for his father in law Moses had met God near Horeb at the bush that burned but was not consumed, and been told to return to Egypt and to take out God’s people who were suffering there.  Moses is not at all keen. First he asks God “who am I that I can go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out?” and God reassures him – “I will be with you, and as proof when you have done it you will worship me here”. Moses finds another reason to avoid the task –“no one will believe me. They will ask me for your name and I don’t know what to say”. God responds with a phrase that will answer this fear “ehyeh asher ehyeh – I will be what I will be” God extends the instruction – “Go tell them I sent you, Go gather the elders and tell them I have remembered them and will bring them into the land flowing with milk and honey. Go with the elders and tell Pharaoh to let you take three days journey into the wilderness to worship God. And when Pharaoh refuses, I will smite Egypt and you will be allowed to go. And then when you go, ask for compensation from the Egyptians, you will not leave empty handed”.

Moses responds once more with anxiety:  “They won’t believe me. They won’t think I have met You”. God responds with admirable patience and firstly turns Moses’ staff into a serpent and then back into a staff, and then turns Moses’ hand leprous and then returned it to its healthy state.  These are to be signs Moses can use to convince the Israelites of the authenticity of his meeting with God.

Leaving aside the whiff of bad magical tricks, what we are left with is Moses’ desire not to get involved, not to take any initiative or risk, even at the direct request of God. God even offers him a third sign to show the disbelieving Israelites – the changing of water to blood – it smacks a little of desperation, how many tricks does one need if one actually believes in what you are saying?

Moses finds another reason not to go – he is not an orator, he finds public speaking hard and he is not convinced by God’s response to him that as God has chosen him his speaking skills will be adequate. Only then does God get angry – this dissembling has gone on long enough. Moses will have the help of Aaron, he will have his staff and the various tricks. He should get going.

Interestingly Moses does not get going immediately – instead he goes to Yitro his father in law and asks for permission to leave to see if any of his family in Egypt are still alive. And Yitro tells him to go in peace. Was he hoping that Yitro would not give permission? Who are the brothers in Egypt whose status Moses is referring to?  God seems to respond to an unsaid remark – “everyone who sought your death in Egypt is now dead. Go.”

Moses takes Zipporah and his two sons to journey to Egypt and while they travel God tells him that while he may create magical effects with his staff, Pharaoh will not give the people permission to leave. Then follows an opaque and quite terrifying text.

God tells Moses to tell Pharaoh that Israel is the first born son of God.  Pharaoh has been asked to let God’s first born son travel to worship God, but Pharaoh has refused and so God will kill the son, the first born son of Pharaoh.

The theme of the first born son, of the primacy of that role and the specialness of that child, is emphasised and established. We are prefiguring the final plague when the first born son of everyone in Egypt, from Pharaoh to the animals in the fields, will be slain during one terrible night. All will be killed except the first born of those Israelites who have enacted the ritual of the night of Pesach, slaying a lamb and displaying its blood on their doorpost. There is a time slippage – this is being said before anything has really happened. There is a person slippage – quite who is who is unclear. All we know is that the first born son belongs to God in a way that others do not.

Moses is travelling with his own first born son, Gershom.

On the way to the lodging house, God encountered him (וַיִּפְגְּשֵׁהוּ) and sought to kill him.

What is the nature of the encounter? Who does God encounter? Who does God seek to kill?

Is it Moses? Is it Gershom?

Moses is entirely passive. Rigid with shock? Prepared to acquiesce? Unwilling to act? Up till now he has mainly been avoiding what God  asks of him. This seems to be part of the same behaviour.

But Zipporah is having none of it. The daughter of a Cohen Midian, a Midianite Priest, she immediately recognises the danger and the need to act. She becomes a Priestess, performing the ritual that will avert the danger.

Zipporah takes a flint and circumcises her son – presumably Gershom her first born rather than Eliezer.        She touches/approaches ‘his feet’ She declares “כִּ֧י חֲתַן־דָּמִ֛ים אַתָּ֖ה לִֽי:”

It is a priestly ritual with an act and a declaration. The blood seems to be the sacrifice that propitiates God and also binds her to the divine. It also seems to save the life of Moses and/or Gershom.

What is a “hatan damim”. Often translated as a “bridegroom of blood”, it may refer to the newly circumcised Gershom (a child being circumcised is described as Hatan); or to Moses (Hatan can mean bridegroom) in that this act is the one that really binds them together as equal partners in the work of God; or even to God – does she bind God to her in her ritual action where she offers the blood of her own first born? And here is God the Hatan (bridegroom) of the Hatan (father in law)? Has she bought into Moses’ relationship with God by virtue of circumcising her son?

Whatever happens in this night, God withdraws the danger, and Zipporah clarifies that the ritual is to do with the act of circumcision: חֲתַ֥ן דָּמִ֖ים לַמּוּלֹֽת

One might think that this act by Zipporah is enough to give her status and place in the leadership going into Egypt, but bizarrely it appears to have the opposite effect. There is no record that she ever goes to Egypt, and no record that she is part of the events there, and no record that she is part of the Exodus.  Instead she disappears from the text until all these events are over, and then we have an insight into where she had gone.

In this sidra (exodus 18) we find that Yitro, the priest of Midian and hatan (father in law) of Moses , has heard about God having brought the Israelites out of Egypt and he brings Zipporah and their two sons to Moses

We are told

 וַיִּקַּ֗ח יִתְרוֹ֙ חֹתֵ֣ן מֹשֶׁ֔ה אֶת־צִפֹּרָ֖ה אֵ֣שֶׁת מֹשֶׁ֑ה אַחַ֖ר שִׁלּוּחֶֽיהָ:

Yitro, the Hoten of Moses, took Zipporah the wife of Moses, after he had sent her away.

The word for sending away here is the same as that used for divorcing a wife (Deuteronomy 24:1)

Had Moses divorced Zipporah? Had he sent her back to her father’s house in order to protect her from what was to happen in Egypt? Was the sending away an act of shielding love or of punitive revenge? We cannot know. But we do know that Yitro feels confident enough to bring her and the two sons to Moses at the mountain where God will be revealed to Israel.

Is he ensuring his daughter is able to be present at the giving of Torah? Is he ensuring that his grandchildren take their appropriate place in Israelite history? Torah stays silent on the subject. Neither Zipporah nor her two sons with Moses will have any role in the future narrative. Moses is the ultimate high achieving father/husband who has no time for family – everything is focused on his love of his work/God – a personal life is irrelevant.

Poor Zipporah. Moses isn’t even interested to see the family. He welcomes Yitro his father in law, he performs all the social niceties with him, he brings him into the tent and updates him about what has happened and Yitro behaves like a priest. Once again there is a meal – they eat bread together as when Moses first met Yitro.

And Zipporah fades out of the narrative. She is, we assume, at Sinai – but Moses is determined to stay focussed and pure and instructs men and women not to be together for the days of preparation. Their relationship – never close or personal – is now over. Only with the story in the book of Numbers of the complaining about Moses (second) wife being Cushite brings her back to mind. But even here it is not clear – is this a new wife or the same one? There are no children. Moses is not interested in relationships. He is married to his job, to God, to his position as leader.

Zipporah is a woman who, like the other women in the early chapters of Exodus, saves the life of Moses and allows him to grow and mature into the person able to fulfil God’s work. From the midwives who facilitate his birth and his mother who carefully hides him where he will be found, through Miriam and the daughter of Pharaoh, the protective function is carried out by women – a relic maybe of an earlier tradition of guardian goddess, that has been subverted by the paternal and patriarchal characteristic of the Hebrew God.

Zipporah forms no close relationship with a peer. She cuts a lonely figure despite being one of seven sisters.  Her marriage is loveless and cold. She is given no obvious honour or status, does not seem to have any contact with her sister-in-law Miriam (unless one reads Miriam’s complaint about the Cushite wife as being one of sisterly solidarity with Zipporah – a reading that would be quite a stretch).  She stands alone, but she is powerful. She takes on God and makes God back off. She protects her young son and saves his life. She protects her husband and saves his life too. I can only hope she got more pleasure from Gershom and Eliezer, that they honoured and respected her and understood just what a brave and competent woman she was. I like to think of her rising to the priesthood, an early role model who understood ritual and liturgical formula and could use them to best effect.

Whoever she was and whatever happened to her, her name gives us some optimism. Like a sparrow she flies unnoticed, getting on with her life, able to see from her own perspective. As psalm 84 reminds us

גַּם־צִפּ֨וֹר ׀ מָ֢צְאָה בַ֡יִת וּדְר֤וֹר ׀ קֵ֥ן לָהּ֘ אֲשֶׁר־שָׁ֢תָה אֶפְרֹ֫חֶ֥יהָ אֶת־מִ֭זְבְּחוֹתֶיךָ יְהֹוָ֣ה צְבָא֑וֹת מַ֝לְכִּ֗י וֵאלֹהָֽי:

Even a sparrow finds a home and a swallow a nest where she may lay her young, Your altars Adonai tzeva’ot, my sovereign and my ruler.

Zipporah the priestess of Midian both challenges God and is brought by God into the inner circle of God. Where Moses fails her, let’s hope God supports her. She is at Sinai and she is unencumbered by her husband. Who knows what she could have achieved that bible has chosen not to record.

 

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.

Shifra & Puah, midwives of our history. Parashat Shemot names some strong women without whom Moses would not have survived.

After a dearth of women in the last sidra, the beginning of the book of Exodus simply teems with them.  Many are unnamed and described only in their relationship to men : We meet the daughter of the tribe of Levi who marries a man of Levi at the beginning of Chapter 2. In the dangerous world of a Pharaoh determined to suppress the Israelite population by killing every male child not only has a baby but hides him for three months, before making a vessel of bulrushes and placing the child in it to be caught in the reeds at the river’s edge.

We meet the sister of this child who watches to see what will happen.  She observes  the daughter of Pharaoh who comes with her maids to bathe in the river. Seeing the little vessel  she sends one maid to fetch it and on finding  the baby expresses compassion for him. The sister comes from her hiding place and suggests to the Pharaoh’s daughter that she can find a wet-nurse.  On gaining approval for this suggestion the sister calls the child’s mother who agrees to nurse the child in exchange for money from the Pharaoh’s daughter.

The baby is the centre of the story here, but there are three women who contrive to save his life, two of whom we will later learn are Yocheved his mother and Miriam his sister. The daughter of Pharaoh remains anonymous.

Once the baby is grown, he is brought back to the daughter of Pharaoh who names him Moses, because, bible reports, “ I drew him out of the water”.  While we may know that the blood relatives of the baby are present, at this moment there is a formal adoption of the child into the Egyptian fold.

The next thing we know is that Moses, having killed an Egyptian taskmaster  for hurting an Israelite man, is fleeing for his life from the anger of Pharaoh, and now we meet seven more unidentified women – the seven daughters of Reuel, priest of Midian.

One of these women will shortly be named as she is given to Moses for a wife – Zipporah. And Zipporah gives birth to a boy, Gershom, named for Moses’ alienation: ‘I have been a stranger in a strange land.‘ It seems that Moses does not circumcise his son or bring him into the brit/covenant of Abraham, either because this is unknown to him or because his alienation extends to his relationship with the Israelites. When, after his meeting with God in the wilderness, he returns to Egypt to confront Pharaoh and demand the release of the Hebrews, his life is once again in danger, it is Zipporah who saves him. In an obscure passage “God met him and sought to kill him. Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off the foreskin of her son and cast it as his feet, and she said ‘surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me”. So God let him alone, and she said “A bridegroom of blood in regard to circumcision”

Two more figures make up the set of women in this passage who surround and support Moses – the midwives Shifra and Puah.

Shifra and Puah are midwives in Egypt. They are therefore at the cutting-edge of the Royal decree to ensure that all the Hebrew baby boys are murdered at birth.  The survival of the Israelite people is dependent on their actions. Shifra and Puah disobey the Royal decree, because , the text tells us, they feared/revered God. When called to account by Pharaoh this is not what they tell him, instead they say the Hebrew women are like animals (חָיוֹת) and before the midwives can get to them they have already delivered their babies. The narrator then tells us that  “God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied, and waxed very mighty. And it came to pass, because the midwives feared God, that God made households  בָּתִּים for them” – a reference to both material goods and to children.

The story (and the chapter) ends with Pharoah’s decree repeated, but this time he broadens his audience from the midwives to the whole people: And Pharaoh charged all his people, saying: ‘Every son that is born you shall cast into the river, and every daughter you shall save alive” (1:22).  While he does not challenge the midwives’ version of the story he extends the diktat to all of the people.

So who are these women who pivot our history so decisively and so bravely?

While the Masoretic tradition assumes that they are themselves Hebrew women, this is by no means clear.  Their names are understood as more likely to be Semitic than Egyptian. Shifra (from the root שפר) means something along the lines of beauty/clarity but the root also gives us the noun “shofar” the horn that is blown to call to attention. The name Puah is likely also to mean to shine/beauty but neither of these names is easy to translate or to mine meaning from – or even identity – from.

The Talmud tells us “Rav and Shmuel [interpreted the verse העבריות למילדות ] One said: a woman and her daughter, and one said: a woman and her mother in-law. He who said a woman and a daughter: they were Yocheved and Miriam. He who said a women and her mother in law: they were  Yocheved and Elisheva.” (BT Sotah 11b)

From this interpretation emerged all the midrashim and commentary (and Masoretic vocalisation) that Shifra and Puah were both Hebrew women and of the family of Moses.

But the interpretation conflicts both with what the text tells us and with the emotional ‘sense’ of the piece. Would Pharaoh really ask Hebrew women to murder the baby boys of their fellow women?  Surely this is a task he would entrust to women from another ethnic identity? And when the midwives explain to Pharaoh why they are not fulfilling his order, they talk about the Hebrew women as being unlike Egyptian women, saying they are ‘as animals’. There is no sense that either they or Pharaoh are doing anything other than seeing the Hebrew women as ‘other’ than, and less than them – the Egyptians.

And what about the information that God dealt well with the midwives and rewarded them [with households]? From everything else we know about Miriam and Yocheved, they were not rewarded materially, nor did they become the heads of households. The correlation simply does not ring true.

So why does the tradition speak of Shifra and Puah as being not only not Egyptian women who revered God, but also tries to identify them with the Hebrew women who protected Moses’ life?

From a modern perspective we need to ask  why the tradition chooses to narrow down how the text is read so that named and autonomous Egyptian women become Hebrew women whose introduction to us is only in relation to the men. And also we need to question the erasure of the real identity of Shifra and Puah as Egyptian women who revere God and who choose to serve God and rebel against the Pharaoh from their own belief systems and through their own agency.

The text of the Hebrew bible – at least the consonants of the Hebrew bible, was agreed upon by the second century CE. But the vowels of that text – which could dramatically alter meaning – were not agreed upon at that time. It took the work of the ba’alei ha’mesorah, groups of scholarly scribes working from about the 7th to the 10th century CE to finally standardise the grammar of the text – its vowels, the breaks (verses and paragraphs), the accenting/cantillation marks.

This is important because the identity of the women as either Hebrew or Egyptian relies on the vocalisation of the letters of the two words        למילדות.   העבריות    Depending on the vowels we can either read the words as “to the Hebrew midwives” or as “to the midwives of the Hebrew women” (grammatical point – whether there is a patach under the lamed and a dagesh in the mem or a chirik under the lamed and no dagesh)

There are other texts which operate on the vocalisation of the text as “midwives of the Hebrew women” – ie that understand Shifra and Puah to be Egyptian. The Septuagint, for example, the translation of the Hebrew bible into Greek which was completed in the 3rd Century understands the text this way. Josephus in his “Antiquities” (1st Century) describes the women as Egyptian midwives who served the Hebrew women. Some other biblical commentators also understand the text to mean that the women were Egyptian (eg Abarbanel, Judah heHasid). Most interestingly there are fragments of texts which specifically name Shifra and Puah as Egyptian “righteous women who converted to Judaism” (Yalkut Shimoni does so (@13th Century), and there is a fragment from the Cairo genizah (@10th Century) which also lists Shifra and Puah as righteous gentile women who helped the Israelite people and who revered God.

Since the Masoretes vocalised the text to make the midwives Hebrew women, and Rashi follows the tradition from BT  Sotah we find ourselves corralled to seeing them not as brave Egyptian women who followed their consciences and put their faith in God, but as Hebrew women doing exactly what we would expect them to do, and indeed see them as the sister and mother of Moses whose function was entirely about protecting him as an infant.

Shifra and Puah, two brave women who stood up against the powers in their country, who saw human beings where the Pharaoh saw a population of migrants threatening his country, who revered God and acted both morally and with compassion, remind us that we are not alone as Jews. Through them and through others like them we see that God is not just ‘ours’, but is a universal God with whom we Jews have a particular relationship (as other have a particular, and different relationship). Shifra and Puah, whose names describe beauty, are also women who radiate morality and who call us to arms, to fight for what is right.

So why was the agency of two righteous gentile women erased in this way? Because they were foreign? Because they were women? Because they were necessary to Moses’ survival and pivotal in the narrative arc? Because they took risks and made their own decisions against the power of the Pharaoh?

Is the erasure of their identities and their active choices that changed our history forever  down to conspiracy or to accident?  I leave the reader to decide.

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/

 

 

Beshallach/ Shabbat Shira: the Song of Miriam

“And Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances. And Miriam sang to them: Sing ye to the Eternal for God is highly exalted: the horse and its rider God has thrown into the sea.”

Shabbat Shira, the Sabbath of Song, is named for the Song at/of the Sea (Shirat haYam) and this name takes precedence over the usual format of the first important word giving the title to the week. Shirat haYam was the song of victory sung by the Israelite slaves after they had successfully crossed the Reed Sea, and the pursuing Egyptians had drowned there following the miraculous opening and then closing of the waves to allow the Israelites safe passage but not the heavily armed Egyptians.

Along with the poem in Deuteronomy (Ha’azinu) it bookends the story of Moses and the people of Israel as they leave Egyptian slavery and journey through the wilderness to arrive at the edge of the promised land, and tradition ascribes its authorship to Moses.

But tucked into the text a little way down we are introduced for the first time by name to Miriam, described as “Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron” and she takes a drum in her hand and leads the women in singing and dancing and drumming to celebrate the victory. And while apparently singing the same first line, Moses and the children of Israel sing “I will sing to the Eternal, for God is highly exalted” while Miriam sings “Sing to the Eternal, for God is highly exalted”. She uses the imperative version, whereas Moses and the Israelites use the personal pronoun.

The order of the text makes us read this as the song of Moses, but is there a clue in the wording of the text to tell us that this is the song of Miriam?

In the fragments of text found in Qumran (known as the Dead Sea Scrolls) we find a tantalising addition. Just as in the biblical text we find that “Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron took a timbrel in her hand and led the women out with her with timbrels and dancing”, but then there is a break, and then the fragments of seven lines NOT found in the biblical text, followed by the narrative being picked up as the biblical verse 15:22 where Moses leads the Israelites away from the Reed Sea into the desert, and the people find no water until arriving at Marah they find undrinkably bitter (Marah) water.

Is the Qumran text a gloss on the biblical poem of Moses, answering the question of what Miriam might have sung and paralleling other songs of victory or was it the original text which took away words from Miriam and the women in order to give them to Moses and the Israelites? We know that women sang songs of victory after battles – Deborah is a prime example whose song is recorded (Judges 5), and Jephthah’s daughter (Judges 11:34) comes out with timbrel and dancing on his return home. Unnamed women come out dancing and singing with their timbrels when David returns having defeated the Philistines (1Sam 18:6-7) celebrating his success and humiliating King Saul’s record. Hannah (1Sam:2) sings when she achieves her goal of a child, and the late book Judith has her sing in the final chapter, having beheaded Holofernes…

So why not Miriam and the women singing their song? Miriam the prophetess was also Miriam the musician and song leader. Her voice and her words deserve to be heard and to be recognised.

miriams timbrel

Whatever the reason for the biblical canon to contain just the remnant of her singing with the women, apparently echoing the words of Moses and the men, so that tradition could claim her as the song leader for the women only, I think there are enough clues left for us to give her the power and place she deserves.

The first place that Moses leads the Israelites to is called by the narrator “Marah” , after the bitter and undrinkable water found there and there is much murmuring against Moses until on God’s instructions he finds a tree whose wood will sweeten the water. Moses uses this as a teaching aid to remind the people that God is their healer, and then they move on to Elim where there are twelve good water sources and seventy palm trees. Is this a veiled reference to Miriam, whose name is impossible to translate with certainty but which is often understood as coming from “Mar – yam – bitter – water/sea”? Are the people murmuring because of Miriam and her treatment by Moses that he appropriated her rightful role? And are they pacified by the oasis of plenty represented by 12 springs and seventy palm trees and so forget their indignation?

But more intriguing I think is the possibility that Miriam’s name is not derived from bitterness MRH) but comes from a rarely used root MRR to mean a flow of water, drops of water or a watercourse. In which case her name would mean the flowing of water or the directing of water – something that would come to fruition not only in the midrashic idea that wherever Miriam was there was water for the Israelites in the desert (which comes from the drought that is the first reported event after her death), but from this text about the Reed Sea, which changed direction, flowed differently and intentionally while the Israelites crossed it. The name Miriam, introduced exactly here, is I think a clue to her purpose –  we are already explicitly told that she is a prophetess, she has real and intentional meaning and understanding – it is Miriam who causes the sea to part and the miraculous redemption of the fugitive people. Her name, hiding in full view, tells us exactly that.

So the Song here attributed to Moses yet called slightly confusingly Shirat HaYam , the Song of (or at) the Sea (a name first recorded in the 2nd Century in Talmud Yerushalmi), might actually have been Shirat MirYam, the song of Miriam. And how powerfully that simple change could have affected our understanding of our foundational texts and shaped the hearing of the voices of women in our tradition.

Drop by drop as we look again at the texts, we who see Miriam as a role model, who see ourselves reflected in her life as prophetess, sister, organiser, carer for children, provider of life giving water/nourishment, song leader, drummer and dancer , as well as a hard worker behind the scenes who protested injustice done to others and the arrogating of power to the male leadership – we need to take notice of the effect that the flow of water can have – it can wear away the hardest rock. Drop by determined drop we take up her mantle and raise our voices in song and in challenge and in prophecy, and hope that this time the words will not disappear from the canon.

(Photo of Miriam’s timbrel and the reeds in Egypt/water of the Reed Sea from an embroidered Torah Wimple made by Caroline and Naomi Ingram for the author)

Va’era: Does God hear prayer? Does God appear to us when we pray?

When God speaks to Moses at the beginning of the sidra, God says to him “And moreover I have heard the groaning of the children of Israel, whom the Egyptians keep in bondage; and I have remembered My covenant (6:5)

 וְגַ֣ם אֲנִ֣י שָׁמַ֗עְתִּי אֶֽת־נַֽאֲקַת֙ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל אֲשֶׁ֥ר מִצְרַ֖יִם מַֽעֲבִדִ֣ים אֹתָ֑ם וָֽאֶזְכֹּ֖ר אֶת־בְּרִיתִֽי:

In Bible, God hears prayer and frequently is recorded responding to the request. Be it Isaac’s prayer for a child for Rebecca (Genesis 25:21) or Jacob asking for deliverance from the avenging Esau (Gen 32:12), be it Moses and Aaron asking for the healing of Miriam’s skin disease (Numbers 12:13) or the desperate request for a child from Hannah. Be it David asking for God’s blessing and support (2Sam 7:18ff) or Solomon asking for wisdom (1 Kings 3:5ff) It seems that people prayed for what they wanted or needed and God reacted.

Jewish traditional texts assume that prayer comes from the heart and finds its way to a divine hearing. Later in rabbinic Judaism, prayer was more formalised, the wording more fixed (or at least the themes of the prayers, their introductions and endings were organised and prescribed) and while there was room for spontaneous prayer there was also a structure of community prayer, with the underlying assumption that the prayers of a community together would somehow strengthen the power of the words, that God would more readily listen to the combined communal prayer. Hence the minyan, the minimum of ten people for some prayers to be recited, and the extraordinary effect it has of creating community and awareness of the needs of others. Jewish tradition teaches that our communal prayer reminds us not just to think of ourselves, that our prayer must be broader, and when we pray in the right way, with our hearts and minds fully engaged and within the community of our peers, that God will hear our prayer.

But this all begs the question – does God hear all prayer? And if so does our prayer make a difference to the outcomes we seek? What does it mean for God to hear our prayer? And what does it mean if it appears that God does not hear us, or at least does not give us what we want?

The Hebrew verb le’hitapallel, from which the word for prayer –tefillah – comes, means in essence to work on oneself and to judge oneself. So the language of prayer is reflexive, we do something to or for ourselves in prayer, albeit in the gaze of the divine. Prayer is not so much for God as it is for us. In one form, alluded to in the English form of the word, prayer, it is indeed about asking for something, usually for God to influence and outcome, but tefillah is much more than this – it is about stepping outside of the normal stream of time and busyness and looking at ourselves in order to decide for ourselves.

And yet we persist in praying as if our prayer is heard by someone outside of ourselves who has the power to effect change for us. Our core texts all assume this to be true, even while our lived experience shows no real evidence. And we continue, despite everything, to pray to God as if such prayer is heard, as if it matters, as if God will be impacted by our words and the world will be different.

The later books of the Hebrew bible record many prayers uttered in desperate times. The book of Psalms can be read as a liturgical resource bank, and it is no coincidence that so many verses from this book are the building blocks of our liturgy and prayers. Prayer is seen as a natural and human response, and Maimonides reminds us in the Laws of Prayer that “It is a positive commandment to pray each day as it is stated, “And you shall serve the Eternal your God (Ex. 23:25) … They taught that “serve,” means prayer, as it is stated, “And you shall serve God with all your heart” (Deut. 11:13). The Sages asked, “What is the service of the heart? This is prayer” (Ta’anit 2a).”

Prayer is understood in tradition as being rooted in the behaviour of our founding Patriarchs, has the status of being a mitzvah, a commandment, and is one of the spiritual pillars upon which the world stands, taking the place of the sacrificial system of Temple worship that brought God closer to our world.

Right up to current responsa, prayer is seen as being the obvious and most basic demonstration of belief in God. R. Moshe Feinstein wrote that “The essence of belief in God is that only God can ultimately guarantee our livelihood or cure our diseases. And when a person does not trust in God and does not pray to God, it is as if he is denying belief in God for the sake of belief in something else…” (Igrot Moshe, Orach Chaim Vol. II, Chapter 24)

Yet if asked, many people of faith, who pray regularly and with kavannah (focus/intention) will still hesitate to sign up to such an idea that it God has such activity within our daily lives so that our livelihoods and our health are entirely at the mercy of the divine. How can we live with a God who can capriciously save some and condemn others? How can we live with a God who sees the righteous suffer, when by an act of will they would not have to do so? How can we live with a God who demands praise even while the world is in pain?

Like so much of Jewish experience, we seem able to live with two contradictory ideas both being true, to be comfortable with the cognitive dissonance of both/and, of eilu v’eilu – that many ways of being can be ways to live a righteous and blessed life. We pray because we have to pray, it is hard wired in our souls. We call to a God we don’t always believe in, a God we are sometimes uncertain might be there. We act ‘kiv’yachol’ – as if our prayer will be heard and answered, and yet at the same time we call it the act of le’hitpallel, of judging ourselves, of working upon ourselves.

Does our prayer change God’s mind? In many ways it is simply the wrong question. Our prayer is essentially the internal dialogue that keeps us true and keeps us aware of the direction our moral compass must direct us towards. Whether God hears and responds, hears and takes note, hears and ignores, or does IMG_1791not hear – who can tell? It is enough that we believe ourselves to be in God’s presence when we judge ourselves and we work to change ourselves. And sometimes, rarely, we suddenly have the encounter, we recognise the presence of God and hear the voice of slender silence resonating in our soul and we know that God is listening, that God is there. And we have the strength to go on.