13. And Moses cried to the Lord, saying,'Oh please god, please heal her now'[Numbers 12]In Hebrew Moses' words are the easily said
Pronounced Ayl na rafa na la, this is probably the first short prayer in the Hebrew biblical text. Most are long protracted poems. This is short and sweet and very repeatable in a mantra, chanting sort of way.
I first learned about his prayer when I returned to Judaism after a long hiatus. The one thing I remember most about that first prayer service at a Jewish Renewal synagogue, it was this healing prayer of Moses about Miriam's case of tzarat. Moses of course knew what Miriam was going through since God gave him a taste of it back at the burning bush.
6) And the LORD said furthermore unto him: 'Put now thy hand into thy bosom.' And he put his hand into his bosom; and when he took it out, behold, his hand was leprous, as white as snow.And He said: 'Put thy hand back into thy bosom.--And he put his hand back into his bosom; and when he took it out of his bosom, behold, it was turned again as his other flesh. 8) And it shall come to pass, if they will not believe thee, neither hearken to the voice of the first sign, that they will believe the voice of the latter sign.[Exodus 4]
While he did use that first sign, the staff turning into a snake, Moses never used the second, tzarat, in Egypt. As I wrote back in Exodus in my piece Va-eira 5770: The missing plague it was here with Miriam that the plague and the doubt finally showed. But what is interesting is while Moses and Aaron were able to turn the snake back into a staff, in this case there is nothing that Moses is able to do, no methodology to revert Miriam's tzarat back into healthy skin. He is forced to ask God for help, to heal her. God is totally in control here, not human beings with a set of instructions, the Torah seems to say. The rabbis say similarly
On going in to be cupped[i.e. bloodletting] one should say: ‘May it be Thy will, O Lord, my God, that this operation may be a cure for me, and mayest Thou heal me, for Thou art a faithful healing God, and Thy healing is sure, since men have no power to heal, but this is a habit with them’...From this we learn that permission has been given to the physician to heal. When he gets up [after cupping] what does he say? — R. Aha said: Blessed be He who heals without payment.[Brachot 60a]
God does the healing clearly, and God heals through the spirit and through prayer and blessing. While "la" means "her" in Moses' prayer, referring to Miriam, it can also mean "it" in the feminine. Most who follow this idea think the "it" here is for neshama, one's soul. Ahava, which could mean love or friendship, could be another feminine word that would work here. Not only was there a physical healing need but one of the soul, and one of the relationship between people. Ayl na rafa na la is very versatile in that way.
The traditional prayer of healing, said as part of a Torah reading where one person who needs to ask for healing of another is much longer and has a few interesting issues in its text:
He who blessed our forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob Moses and Aaron, David and Solomon -- may He bless and heal the sick person ( insert name here) son of (mothers name) because (name of person saying prayer) will contribute to charity on his behalf. In reward for this, may the Holy One, Blessed be He, be filled with compassion for him to restore his health, to heal him, to strengthen him, and to revivify him. And may he send him speedily a complete recovery from heaven for his two hundred forty eight organs and three hundred sixty five blood vessels, among the other sick people of Israel, a recovery of the body and a recovery of the spirit swiftly and soon. Now let us say Amen.[Artscroll]There are three points of interest. While I have placed this only in the masculine, the he referring to the patient has a section with feminine pronouns as well in the prayerbook, which is rather odd for a more traditional siddur which tends to put everything in the masculine. Secondly, it mentions two hundred forty eight organs and three hundred sixty five blood vessels, which if one were to add those two numbers up is six hundred and thirteen, a reference to the six hundred and thirteen mitzvot. Finally there is a quid pro quo here: one is to give charity in order to get this result. Given most tzedaka is give as a mandatory obligation, this seems strange. To trade one for the other seems counter to the idea of giving charity not because you want to or are after an end, but because it is commanded by God.
In liberal Judaism, much of these interesting points is addressed by deleting them. In the Reform Siddur Mishkan Tefila The more formal version reads
May the one who blessed Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Sarah Rebbecca, Rachel, and Leah bless and heal [A list of names].May the blessed Holy One be filled with compassion for their health, to be restored and their strength to be revived.May God swiftly send them a complete renewal of the body and spirit and let us say Amen.With the replacement of Moses, Aaron David and Solomon with the matriarchs, the Reform version also adds another piece. while the Orthodox version is said by a individual, the Reform version is communal and neutral in gender. While this is found in Reform liturgy, it is uncommon in my experience for anyone to use it. Many congregations will sing instead Jewish songwriter Debbie Friedman's version, which is so common it is included as an alternate healing prayer in Mishkan T'fila.
Mi shebeirach avoteinu m'kor habracha l'imoteinu
May the Source of strength who blessed the ones before us
Help us find the courage to make our lives a blessing and let us say: amen
Mi shebeirach imoteinu m'kor habracha l'avoteinu
Bless those in need of healing with refua shleima
the renewal of body, the renewal of spirit, and let us say Amen.
Yet my favorite is still Moses' words for Miriam. Ayl na rafa na la. We do not know if Moses said it only the once, or said it over and over again. Its simple chanting sounds and meter makes me believe it was repeated over and over again. Even the Hebrew letters involved are easily repeatable. Like the reform version, it is based on the power of prayer more than anything else, and as a repeatable prayer it paradoxically means it can be one of the longest prayers possible. repeated over and over fro a very long time. Even on paper when written it becomes a powerful prayer.
I know many people who need healing of body. I know many who need healing of spirit, including me. The last few months have been a radical change in my life. Who I identified myself to be and how I did my daily work is radically different than it was a year ago. I realized how much I need to heal this week, sitting in bed around 2:30 in the morning, worrying about an international package getting to its destination. Part of my new life is running a shipping department, so different than the training and consulting I used to do. I laid there that night wondering why five boxes could keep me worried so much that I could not sleep.
I didn't figure it out that night but I have a good idea of my problem now. I need healing of my spirit. It's damaged and weak somehow, leading me down a path that every thing I do must be right and perfect, or my identify will be shattered. Who and what I am right now is pretty fragile anyway, as I still haven't clarified who I am based on the many new things in my life over the past year and a half. I'm sure I am not the only one like this, given the changes in the economy worldwide. Too many have had changed lives, and many more will in the near future. It is too easy when our souls are weak to cling on to our daily deeds and career as the sole source of our identity. I make a single shipment the most important thing in my life because I'm scared I will be nothing if I can't get those boxes to their destination.
My intellect knows better of course, but my soul does not. It's cowering in a dark corner of me, in pain. Thus I need to heal. Saying a few words may not heal me, but praying those words, and connecting with God may. Heschel said the prayer does not save but makes man worthy of saving. It does not matter the prayer, but that it is said. When we do the actions that connect us with God, that is when refua shleima, the complete healing happens.
I'm trying to heal, to bring my soul into a whole place again. Like Miriam it is locked away and isolated. It is another way of looking at why I have had such trouble writing the last few weeks. My soul has not been in it. It once was honored for its knowledge in the world it was in, now in its new world, it is denigrated at every turn. It has been told too many time lately that it is wrong for expressing its opinion so it does not want to express its opinion any more. It is also part of my soul to express itself so it keeps vainly trying and fails miserably. So it is hurt over and over again, and terrified of being wrong and hurt again. I know now it needs to heal from this, to handle those situations differently. Healing a soul is not easy, but it can be done.
For me, that healing will come through Ayl na rafa na la, repeating it over and over again, and with it opening my heart and soul to God once again, like Moses and Miriam did.