Of all of our prayers, perhaps the most heartfelt are prayers for healing. It is the natural response of anyone whose body or soul is broken or in pain to seek succor from the Creator of the Universe; to pray for compassion, for comfort or for relief. Right now, my family and I are trying to cope with extremely trying times – both my mother and my wife’s father are fighting awfully grave illness, so this subject is prominent in my thinking. Fortunately, our liturgy includes specific healing requests as well as a well of traditional texts from which to draw comfort. Of course, when the needs of the soul reach beyond the capacity of words alone, the language of music can be employed to express our deepest yearnings and innermost feelings.
The most frequent opportunity to offer prayers for healing occurs during each of the three prescribed daily services. For instance, the weekday Amidah, a collection of nineteen blessings that began to be assembled prior to the destruction of first temple in 70 B.C.E., contains a prayer for healing: “R’faeinu, Adonai, V’neirafei, Hoshieinu V’nivasheia”; “Heal us, Adonai and we shall be healed. Help us and save us, for You are our glory.” Although written in plural to encompass the entire community, the prayer for healing also offers the opportunity to include individual prayers. Siddur Sim Shalom includes a text which not only facilitates these personal petitions, but also includes a blessing for those who provide care and comfort.
“… and may it be Your will Adonai our God and God of our ancestors, to send complete healing, of body and soul to __, along with all others who are stricken, and strengthen those who tend to them.”
When inserting the names of those for whom I am concerned in the preceding passage, I feel a spiritual connection to them as I pray. This section of liturgy has inspired several composers to create beautiful, comforting musical settings. One such composition is by Moshe Halfon who describes himself as; “Soul Singer…. Intuitive Healer….World Percussionist…. Rabbi, Cantor, Chaplain.” Halfon, together with Ariella Shira Lewis, weaves these words into a moving chant entitled Heal Me and I am Healed. This song and others is available from his website on a CD entitled, Let There Be Light, Vol. 1: Jewish Songs of Healing and Wholeness.
During the reading of the Torah it is customary to offer a special blessing called “Mi Sheberach”, “May The One Who blessed our ancestors…” for those who are called to the Torah and their dear ones. The great liturgical scholar Elbogen notes that by the 12th century, every time the Torah was read, a multitude of these blessings was offered, perhaps, he speculates, because it was expected that the recipient of the honor would make a donation to the synagogue in gratitude. While most modern congregations restrict the number of Mi Sheberach prayers in the interest of time (besides most people no longer give a donation for this purpose) many offer the special Mi Sheberach for the ill. As these prayers are usually presented in front of an open Torah scroll, they have a powerfully comforting effect on those who are involved. While there are a multitude of settings of this prayer, there is none that is better known than that of Debbie Freedman. Debbie Friedman is arguably the most popular and influential Jewish Musician of our time. Her deep sensitivity and spirituality, reach out to many. Debbie Friedman’s setting of Mi Shebeirach is based on the Reform version of this prayer. The link to full version is provided on Debbie Freedman’s website.
Also contained in the context of the Amidah is the Birkat Cohanim, , the Priestly Blessing, (Numbers 6: 24-26) “May Adonai bless you, and keep you; May Adonai make His face to shine upon you, and be gracious unto you. May Adonai lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.” This blessing, originally offered by Aaron the biblical high priest, can be invoked for almost any occasion. Here is an inspired classical setting of Birkat Cohanim by the extremely gifted interpreter of our liturgy Hazzan Moshe Taube. This is found on his recording entitled Original Synagogue Masterpieces.
For generations, we have tuned to the book of Psalms, a collection of 150 exquisite liturgical poems attributed to the biblical King David. Indeed the Cantors Assembly has a project that involves Hazzanim from around the globe reading Psalms on behalf of a list of people in need of healing. Among the most popular Psalms are Psalm 123, “I turn my eyes to the mountains, from where will my help come,” Psalm 130, “… From out of the depths I called You Adonai…” and Psalm 23, “The Lord is my Sheppard I shall not want…” The latter is the subject of numerous classical and modern settings. Gam Ki Elech, “Even though a pass through the shadow of the valley of death…” is a strikingly powerful setting by Elliot Kranzler, who is both a psychiatrist and a Jewish Recording Artist, This setting is found on his CD Ki Ata Imadi, as well as in the collection entitled; The World is a Narrow Bridge. (See below.)
Perhaps due to the rising interest in Jewish Spirituality, an ever increasing number of recordings of songs, chants and Niggunim (songs with out words), are being created; some of which are finding there way into the main stream of Jewish worship. Naturally there are a multitude of texts which have inspired musicians to create healing music. One of the most evoked of these passages is from Numbers 12:13, “El Na Refa Na La” , “O God, please heal her—please.” The phrase, Refuah Sheleama, “A complete Healing” is often appended. This is a setting of El Na Refa Na La that I created and use in my synagogue. The English verses were written in collaboration with my colleague, Rabbi Dr. Gideon Goldenholz.
The Biblical Book of Job, tells a heartrending story of a man who, despite great adversity and hardship, never looses his faith in God. Drawn from this book is the phrase, “Adonai Natan V’Adonai Lakach…”, “Adonai has given and Adonai has taken away…” This powerful passage is the text on which the inspirational song, Jobs Niggun, by singer/songwriter, entertainer and award-winning Jewish educator Rabbi David Paskin. Jobs Nigun is part of an unusually insightful and passionate collection of healing music entitled, The World is a Narrow Bridge. Assembled by the renowned Jewish Musician, Craig Taubman, this CD is a collection of songs by a variety of artists, each of which has a wonderful story to tell. If you only have one CD of healing music in your Library, this is the one to select.
At this time of personal turmoil, I am most grateful to God for the ability to pray. Prayer is an extremely powerful force that not only can affect the subject of the prayer but also have a profound impact on the individual or community offering it. Indeed, there are scientists and doctors who have noted the positive effect on patients who know that people are offering prayers on their behalf. When people pray, sing and chant together a special sacred atmosphere is created that has a lasting benefit which reaches from the depths of the soul to the heights of the Heavens. I sincerely hope that the healing that is evoked by the examples I have included and others you may create or discover will shed some light on spiritual darkness, and on some level, be a source of comfort and Refuah.
If you have composed or discovered prayers, chants or songs of healing that you would like to share, kindly click on the comments link below and we can use this blog as an avenue for such sharing. Please do not distribute copy written material unless you have permission from the artist.
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