April 1, 2010 Week 333, Day 4 17 Nisan 5770

Cantor Rosalie Boxt

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Many of us see people whom we love struggle mightily with failures of body, ravaged by sickness or disease. When we reach the prayers for healing in our worship service, our prayers are immediately directed toward those who need as much strength and love, prayer and blessing as we can send their way. Yet it has been interesting to me, that when I mention including those who are in need of healing of spirit and of mind in our prayer, worshipers seem surprised. I suspect that many of us, who ourselves may be healthy of body currently, todah la’eil, thank God, are struggling with something in our lives that makes us feel vulnerable, weak, or afraid. Can we not also ask God to swiftly send us renewal of spirit? R’fuat hanefesh? Or as a Mi Shebeirach for an aliyah asks, to rescue us mikol tzarah v’tzukah, from all trouble and distress? And receive blessings and success in all that we strive for?

In 2000, I was deeply honored to be asked to become a Partner in the Kalsman Institute on Healing and Health, because I had worked with the talented Merri Arian on a book of healing music for Synagogue 2000 (now Synagogue 3000), as well as an examination of the varieties of healing services taking place within our Movement. My involvement with this wonderful Institute made me realize that there is so much more to the spiritual work of healing than just prayers for the sick and healing services. Prayers and services do provide a great deal of comfort through sacred story telling. I discovered, however, that I was overwhelmed and moved by stories of doctors and nurses, care givers and hospital administrators, scholars and scientists, who are deeply committed to ideas of true healing. These professional caregivers focus much of their study and their work on finding methods of spiritual connection, of working with the entire nefesh, the entire soul, in the process of moving a patient from broken-ness to sh’leimut, wholeness. Thus, today, my prayers for courage and strength, for renewal of body and spirit, always extend to the doctors, nurses, and other caregivers who live their lives as healers. When I add them to the list of names we lift up during our service, I am often met with grateful smiles and nods. How many of us can remember a particularly kind nurse, at the end of a long shift, he himself in need of renewal and courage, to face the work he does each day? Or which congregant came to synagogue from the long-term care facility with an aging parent, so grateful for the counselors and caregivers with whom our loved ones spend their days?

Finally, what happens after we spend these moments of reflection and prayer? We surely hope for health for ourselves and those whom we love, and are grateful for our own blessings. Yet I wonder how we translate the prayers of Mi Shebeirach, or of Gomeil into a desire to become healers ourselves. How can moments that remind us to be grateful for the blessings and gifts that we do have, encourage us to share those gifts with others -- strangers and friends alike? Some of us may turn to one another when we hear the name of a fellow congregant on our healing list, and shake our heads, remembering that they are suffering in some way. Do we return home and make a note to reach out and call them? Is it possible to feel so strongly the pull of community, that we leave our makom kadosh, our holy sanctuaries, to lift each other up? Can we create those sacred spaces in hospital rooms and bedsides, for those who could be uplifted by our presence? We are commanded to visit the sick, yet we often leave that responsibility to the clergy, the caring committee, and close friends.

It is true that we all value our privacy, and we assume that those to whom we could reach out would want it as well: we don’t want to intrude. Yet, we all can think of times when someone has reached out to us even if we were not in the mood to talk. It was nice to know that someone was thinking about us, cradling us in their hearts, holding us gently in their hands, and using their voice and spirit to lift us up. Aren’t we ourselves then the true b’rachot, the true blessings? Perhaps Mi Shebeirach and Gomeil are about us, we are the vessels of healing, the vessels of goodness that bring comfort to our friends, loved ones, strangers and community. Blessed are you, Holy one of Blessing, who has bestowed every goodness, each one of us, upon each other. Amen, Selah.

Rosalie Boxt is the cantor of Temple Emanuel of Kensington, MD.

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