Vayera, Genesis 18:1-22:24
I always teach my students that there is a Jewish prayer for everything in the world. Inevitably, I have a child who likes to challenge me and asks me in a silly way, “Is there a blessing for going to the bathroom?” And to their surprise, I say yes! Here is the prayer, which is found in our morning time liturgy:
“Praised are You, Adonai our God, Ruler of the universe who with wisdom fashioned the human body. Creating openings, arteries, glands and organs, marvelous in structure, intricate in design. Should but one of them, by being blocked or opened, fail to function, it would be impossible to exist. Praised are You, God, healer of all flesh who sustains our bodies in wondrous ways.”
In this week’s Torah portion, Vayera:
“God appeared to him at the terebinths of Mamre as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day.” Genesis 18:1
At the end of last week’s portion Abraham circumcised himself as a sign of the covenant between him and God. At the beginning of this week’s portion God appears to Abraham. The Rabbis learn from this that God was keeping the commandment of visiting the sick (bikur holim). Just as God visits the sick, so each of us has an obligation to visit the sick. In fact, the rabbis later said that each time someone visits a sick person, they take away one sixtieth of their illness.
However, Jewish tradition views healing as physical and spiritual. And our liturgy also has a prayer for this spiritual aspect:
“The soul which you, my God, have given me is pure. You created it, you formed it, you breathed it into me; you keep body and soul together.”
Part of healing is touching that part of us that goes beyond our body. We do that when one soul visits another soul face to face during a time of illness. Even the phrase “face to face” is not about physically touching one another, but rather it is about a spiritual encounter. Face to face is when two souls connect.
The spiritual aspects of healing certainly do not replace classical medicine. But even doctors realize that there is more to healing than only taking care of the physical. Doctors have written books about healing energy and all kinds of alternative practices.
In this week’s Torah portion, we learn about the importance of visiting the sick. God is the healer. And that hints to the combination of the physical and spiritual side of healing.
(This story is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)