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April 17, 2016 8:14 am

A Passover Prayer for Health

avatar by Harry Zeitlin

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IDF soldiers celebrate the Passover seder. Photo: IDF.

IDF soldiers celebrate the Passover seder. Photo: IDF.

Three times a day we recite the the eighth blessing in the Amida praying that all Israel be healed. The language is very specific. It says “Rofay kol amo yisrael” (…all of His nation…) rather than, for example, “Rofay cholay amo yisrael” (….those who are ill among His nation….).

It’s customary here to quietly recite, or at least think, the names of close family members, then friends, leaders and other among the Jewish people who suffer illness or injury, praying for God’s direct aid in their healing. However, as I mentioned, we “seal” the bracha specifically saying, “all His nation, Israel.”

Of course, in an existential way, all of us almost always have some sort of health complaint, but a  skinned knee or the sniffles are far cries from cancer or bullet/knife wounds. But that sounds like a forced and not very convincing explanation.

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These prayers were formalized shortly after the destruction of our Holy Temple and our exile from the Holy Land. Since that time, the Jewish people have lived with daily uncertainty of our very survival. Although in a very small number of places and during a very small number of periods we have had a sense of temporary security, our sages and leaders have realized that this “security” was always fragile. Thus, for almost two full millennia, almost every Jew, whether consciously aware of it or not, has suffered from devastating trauma.

One symptom of this trauma, a necessary survival technique throughout most of our history in exile, has been to keep our heads down, to not call attention to ourselves and to always be obsessed with not angering whoever our “masters” were at any given time and place. After all these generations, this behavior has become so deeply ingrained that we’re often not even aware of it.

The prayer for the health and wholeness of all Israel was also a prayer for a reality in which our health and robustness was even a possibility. Although we’re blessed to be living in a time when that reality exists — in other words, with the existence of the modern state of Israel — a “real” country that, although embattled since long before independence, boasts a relatively stable, humane society with both civil and human rights for all. We also have, for the first time since our defeat by the legions of ancient Rome, our own military to protect ourselves, rather than having to live at the whim and pleasure of others.

The condition for our national health exists, but most of us, both inside and outside of the Holy Land, are still, to one degree or another, crippled by uncertainty and insecurity. In many ways, we still consider ourselves, at best, a vassal state (of the US, the Europeans, the United Nations) and regularly obsess to demonstrate our worthiness. No other state on the planet regularly humiliates itself, puts aside the welfare and safety of its own citizen and abandons its own unique values to somehow impress “master” and thus prove, mainly to still-insecure ourselves, that we actually are worthy of survival.

Obviously, merely having a country, finally and once again (since it was ours long ago) to call our own, has not been enough to cure us of our acute ghetto syndrome. Boasting a vibrant democracy, being a “Start-Up Nation” and winning several wars of survival have not healed this cancer in our national soul. Nothing in the merely materialistic realm ever will.

Thus, three times every day, we beseech The Creator, “Rofay kol Amo yisrael,” cure each and every one of us and enable us to move into the future as confident free people, serving no earthly master. What better time than Pesach this year? No longer slaves, now we are free people. May it be so this year.

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  • Jay Lavine

    My siddur says, in transliteration, “rofay cholay amo yisrael.”

    Frankly, I would like to see us become less provincial and say, “rofay cholay kol yoshvay tayvayl.”

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