Counting Our Blessings

For the week ending 21 May 2022 / 20 Iyar 5782

The Amidah (Part 11): Blessing of Health and Healing

by Rabbi Reuven Lauffer
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“Prayer is not a miracle. It is a tool, man’s paintbrush in the art of life. Prayer is man’s weapon to defend himself in the struggle of life. It is a reality. A fact of life.” ( Rabbi Avrohom Chaim Feuer)

The eighth blessing reads: “Heal us, Hashem, then we will be healed; save us, then we will be saved; for You are our praise. Bring complete recovery for all our ailments, for You are Hashem, King, the faithful and compassionate Healer. Blessed are You, Hashem, Who heals the sick of His people Israel.”

Our Sages ask why the eighth blessing in the Amidah is the blessing for health and healing. “Rabbi Acha said: Because Brit Milah, which requires healing, is designated for the eighth [day]; they therefore placed it [the blessing for healing] eighth (Megillah 17b). As mentioned in the previous blessing, the Maharal (Ner Mitzvah) writes that the number seven represents the natural cycle. The number eight, however, is representative of a concept that is far loftier. The number eight symbolizes the realms of the spiritual, unencumbered by the physical. Eight embodies the concept of being above and beyond nature. We are commanded to perform the Brit Milah on the eighth day because there is no rational, logical reason why we, the Jewish People, should still exist as an identifiable, cohesive nation after all these millennia. We exist in the realms of the number eight, protected by Hashem’s promise to our forefather Avraham that we will always exist.

By “healing” being placed here as the eighth blessing, we are being taught an essential lesson. It may seem to us that it is medical research and technology that are the cause of the medical establishment’s incredible successes in being able to heal us and nurse us back to good health. But it is not so. Rather, it is Hashem Who heals. It is Hashem Who grants the doctors and researchers the ability and insight to understand how to treat the sick and cure the ailing. This does not mean that we should not turn to doctors for help. We should. However, as the Rashba writes, we must place our trust in Hashem, and hope that the doctors we have chosen will serve Him well.

Rabbi Yechezkel Abramsky (1886-1976), one of the foremost leaders of Lithuanian Jewry and who, after escaping communist Russia, headed the Rabbinical courts in London for seventeen years before moving to Israel, points out that this blessing is the only place where the phrase “For You are our praise” is found in the Amidah. Rabbi Abramsky explains that a person might imagine that it was the doctor who cured them, and therefore we state that it is Hashem we praise. It is true that we need to have an enormous appreciation for the efforts of the doctor, but the doctor is Hashem’s intermediary, and ultimately our praise should be directed to Hashem.

“Heal us Hashem, then we will be healed” seems to be somewhat repetitious. The Eitz Yosef explains that when Hashem, Himself, heals, all of the disease and all of the symptoms are removed permanently. That is why the phrase repeats itself. We ask Hashem to heal us and we acknowledge that Hashem’s healing is unlike that of humans, who are sometimes able to remove all traces of the disease and sometimes not.

Rabbi Chaim Yosef David Azulai (1724-1806) was possibly the most prolific scholar of his generation. He is generally known by the acronym of his names: Chida. He authored more than sixty books that cover the entire gamut of Jewish knowledge, ranging from Jewish law to the most esoteric dimensions of Kabbalah — and everything else in between. In Birkei Yosef, his commentary to the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law), he notes that the gematria (numerical value) of the Hebrew word Shechina (Divine Presence) is 385, which is exactly the same gematria as one of the descriptions of Hashem, “Rofeh Chinam — He Who heals for free.”

Rabbi Zelig Reuven Bengis (1864-1953) was the Chief Rabbi of the Eidah Chreidit in Jerusalem. He was the recognized authority in Jewish law, and his brilliance was such that his extraordinary and insightful essays were so profound that they were unfathomable to all but the most brilliant Torah scholars. Rabbi Bengis was once attending a Brit Milah, but the brit was not taking place. Time was dragging and no one seemed to know why. After quite a delay, Rabbi Bengis approached one of the family members to ask what the problem was. The family member told him that the father of the eight-day baby was desperately sick in the next room. His situation was so dire that his demise was imminent, and they were waiting until he passed away in order to give the newborn baby his father’s name. Rabbi Bengis was aghast and told the family member that the prophet Eliyahu — Hashem’s representative at every brit — was present with them for the mitzvah. Rabbi Bengis cried out, “Instead of waiting for the father to die, we have to pour out our heart in prayer and implore Hashem to cure him!” He then went into the room where the father was lying on his deathbed, pleading with Hashem to grant him life and good health. After a while, the father started showing signs of consciousness, and Rabbi Bengis ruled that the brit should take place immediately. The child was given a different name and his father lived for another eight years.

It is important to point out that our blessing is not solely focused on physical ailments. It is also referring to any spiritual ailments a person may have. However, as opposed to physical sickness, which is not something to be ashamed of, spiritual ailments are a source of embarrassment. It is not difficult to admit to being physically unwell, but it is difficult to admit to being spiritually “unwell.” Even if the admission is only to oneself, a considerable amount of inner strength is required to acknowledge it.

With the power of prayer we can tap into the supernatural realms. We can ask Hashem to heal us. Heal us from our spiritual ailments and our physical ones, even when every medical option has been exhausted and the doctors say there is nothing left to do. Because G-d is truly the “Faithful and Compassionate Healer.”

To be continued.....

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