Healing Words

In my previous pulpit position, I worked with a rabbi who wouldn’t allow himself to be on the Mi SheBerakh list. No matter how ill he got (although, in the time I was there, he never got that ill) he would refuse to let his name be mentioned during the prayers for the sick. He claimed not to do this out of pride or humility but because “no one makes it off that list alive.” In this case, his sarcastic remark pointed to the phenomenon that people in that congregation, once on the Mi SheBerakh list, would ask for their names to remain there, even when their illnesses seemed to have passed.

I remember seeing one member in shul following a surgery, obviously successful (since here she was in shul — this was a surgery the failure of which would likely have been disastrous,) who refused to bench Gomel (praising God for having survived a life-threatening ordeal) and refused to remove her name from the list of the ill. She refused because, she said, “I’m not 100% well; I’m still dealing with it; what if it comes back?”

I recently decided that EMJC should respond to the daily violence against our people in Israel by adding Tehillim (psalms) to our daily service. It is a small gesture, but I feel it’s the only one we’ve got. As a synagogue, it is our job to respond to the circumstances of the world with wisdom and prayer. It should have been a “no-brainer” to make such an addition and, in truth, I was convinced of the matter the instant it came to mind. I did, however, have one small hesitation. My concern was, and remains, that I will have difficulty removing the tradition once begun.

We are saying the psalms in response to increased violence and terror against Jews in Israel. Though we are sadly accustomed to some level of violence, what we see these days is something different, something worse. To not acknowledge it would be terrible, but to not acknowledge that it is different, that it is worse than normal, would be equally terrible. And, when it gets better, when the violence decreases, although it will probably not disappear altogether, we must acknowledge that, too.
Our prayers and our words ought to reflect reality: we add to our prayers because our world is particularly bad. When the world goes back to normal — not ideal, maybe not even so great, but normal — our prayers and the structure of our service should reflect that, too. By taking our names off the sick list, by removing extra tehillim, we do more than just take our service back to normal: we engage in the mitzvah of hakarat ha-Tov, recognizing the good.

It is an essential form of appreciation. If we pray because we truly want God to change the world, we must acknowledge when that happens. Each day I hope and pray it will be the last day we add these psalms to our service. Each day I hope and pray it will be the day we acknowledge and appreciate that things are better. Not perfect. Maybe not all that great. But better.