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1. In Judaism, we partner with God.

To begin, Judaism teaches us to partner with God in an effort to perfect – or repair - the world.3  We perform those tasks that God has either relinquished the right to do on earth or that God chooses not to do in order to allow us free will. Either way, Judaism teaches that each of us is on this planet to facilitate God’s will on earth. Martin Buber echoed Jewish sages throughout the ages when he wrote: “every person born into this world represents something new, something that never existed before, something original … [otherwise] there would have been no need for you and I to have been born”.  Therefore our “foremost task is the actualization of [our] unique, unprecedented and never-recurring potentialities, and not the repetition of something that another, and be it even the greatest, has already achieved.”4

In our pastoral care context, this translates into an acknowledgement that although God is the Divine healer, we are the essential intermediaries through which this healing occurs. This is well illustrated by a story from the Talmud.5

In an age where pain was thought by some to be “precious,” and where the pious were expected to accept suffering willingly because they would receive their reward in the World-to-come, Rabbi Hiya bar Abba fell ill.  His colleague, the famous Rabbi Yohanan visited him and said:  “Are these sufferings acceptable to you?”   Rabbi Hiya replied to his colleague:  “neither they nor their reward.”   Rabbi Yohanan then said to his ill colleague, “give me your hand.”  Rabbi Hiya gave Rabbi Yohanan his hand and Rabbi Yohanan cured him.   

Next, we learn that the same Rabbi Yohanan, the man who had effected his colleague’s cure, fell ill.   A third colleague, Rabbi Hanina, visited him.    Rabbi Hanina asked Rabbi Yohanan the same question:   “Are these sufferings acceptable to you?”   Rabbi Yohanan replied to Rabbi Hanina, “neither they nor their reward.”   Rabbi Hanina then said to his ill colleague, “give me your hand.”  Rabbi Yohanan gave Rabbi Hanina his hand and Rabbi Hanina cured him.6

This talmudic story begs the question: if Rabbi Yohanan had the earthly power to cure other people, why could he not cure himself?  The Talmud provides this response: just as prisoners cannot free themselves from their incarceration, so prisoners of wounded bodies, ailing spirits, and devastated souls cannot heal themselves.  If even the healer, Rabbi Yohanan, needed another person to facilitate his healing, so do we.  

The wisdom of Jewish sages challenges those of us who think that we are strong enough, resourceful enough, and centered enough to recover from various stages of infirmity without assistance from one or more other individuals.  To ensure this assistance from within the community, visiting the ill (bikur holim) is an expectation of all members of the Jewish community, not just of the professionals. Our talmudic rabbis taught that when each of us visits someone who is ill, we carry away one-sixtieth of that beleaguered individual’s illness. (In response to why sixty people cannot cure someone, they replied that the first visitor takes away one-sixtieth of an ailing person’s existing condition. The second visitor takes away one-sixtieth of that person’s remaining illness, ad infinitum).7

© 2004 , Bonita E Taylor & David J. Zucker

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