29 January 2010


The eighth of 19 brief meditations on the 19 blessings of the Amidah.


Heal us, Eternal, and we will be healed; save us and we will be saved, for you are our praise. grant a perfect healing to all our ailments, for you, almighty Sovereign, are a faithful and merciful healer. Blessed are you, Eternal, the healer of the sick of the people Israel.

I don't know why people get sick. I don't know why they sometimes get better and sometimes don't. In other words, there are rational explanations, scientific explanations, but I'm not a rabbi who trades in answers of this variety. I had a teacher who liked to say of himself, living into old age, "only the good die young." I once asked, "What do you mean?" He said, "I feel lucky and that I don't deserve it. Better people have preceded me to the grave." On the other hand, I have had the blessing of burying some very saintly people. When we get sick and when we heal; or, when we survive and when we die usually defies explanation. Sometimes the facts are accurate but they lack the poetry of meaning.

But I do know this: I have seen people healed by lovingkindness even in the face of death. One time, while watching a person die, I saw his wife swab his mouth with a cool, water-soaked sponge. His eyes glanced my way in what was the look desperation and humiliation. I wondered what was on his mind. And then he said, "I was once a very handsome and dignified man when I met my wife. I love her so much and this is why." And then he looked in her direction and she, saying nothing, stroked his forehead with a tenderness and love that was romantic. And within twenty-four hours he was gone.

"Heal us, Eternal, and we will be healed; save us and we will be saved." I think of these words and I conclude, over and over again, that healing and redemption come from us, outsourcing, as it were, our understanding that we are a part of Everything That Was, Everything That Is, and Everything That Will Be. The Eternal.

What is healing? What does it mean to be saved? Sometimes there is healing and someone recovers. Sometimes there is saving but someone dies. An uncomfortable, a seemingly incongruous reality that we are meant to face as one of life's many paradoxes.

Families volunteer to deliver food to the sick; or transport cancer patients to a hospital for treatment; or sit beside the bed of a dying patient; or, the sick will often choose to do for others.

One time, early in my rabbinic training, a went to visit a dying patient in her 90s. She had asked me to find a prayer of thanksgiving for those who provide healing--she wanted beside her bed, in case she lapsed into unconsciousness, a way to offer a written prayer of thanksgiving for those who had provided her with the care and comfort she needed before dying. In submission to her body's finitude, she discovered a healing for herself and a healing for others.

In her dying, she healed and saved.

The mystery of this prayer invokes fear which we are challenged to turn into awe--for the Source of Life, the Source of Faith, the Source of Mercy.

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