Friday, 6 November 2009

Not Well? Who to Ask to Pray for You...

Parshat Vayera

Living in a generation filled with abundant "mystics" all over the globe, one wonders why there are still so many people who get sick. With the abundant "blessings" of "psychics", "miracle workers" and "kabbalists", there is always someone out there able to rectify the situation (even without the help of doctors!)

Most of us know only too well, that when something is not right with us physically, other than a visit to the doctor, we'll turn to someone in the family who is religious. Perhaps he knows of a great righteous rabbi who will be able to magically recite some words which will heal him. Forgetting that it is G-d who is in control, the sick patient will turn to any amount of "mystical healers" available to solve their problems, often paying large amounts of money to the "healer" for the great favour he may be doing for us.

Naturally, the greatest healer of all is G-d Himself. The best medicine is nothing less than Torah. Who can estimate the value of eating kosher, the value of observing the Shabbat day, the value of wearing Tefillin and Tzitzit (for a man) and the value of observing the laws of family purity (for a married couple)? We tend to neglect the real medicines, shopping around for a variety of cures external to the Torah itself, while at the same time – turning to the "great mystics" to pray for us to make for a great healing.

The obvious contradiction glaring the sick patient in the face often concerns the situation of not observing Torah law correctly while turning to the "kabbalist" or the like to intercede on our behalf. He surely knows how best to placate G-d Almighty on our behalf, and with his choice of working formulae, the sick patient can go back once again to violating the Sabbath day, eating non-Kosher food, neglecting even the most basic commandments, such as Tefillin and Mezuzot and more. Then of course, every now and again checking in with the "G-d of Vengeance" just to make sure that some mystic has calmed Him down. Neglecting the point of this G-d having commanded a variety of Mitzvot – commandments – for our own benefit while wondering why we often find ourselves in situations of ill-health – and then asking the same G-d to heal us does make for an interesting conversation!

How many of us can truly testify though to the magical healing abilities of our local Internet psychic and healer? The one we've paid hundreds of dollars to, to heal us from the pains of the present with good news for the future?! They're making a huge success with the good news that everything will be okay due to their own intervention. These of course are the finest of individuals in the world – the crème-de-le-crème who want nothing more than your own well being. Were it not for the fact that they – like everyone – need wealth to live on, you can rest assured they would give unselfishly of their time - using their G-d given "gifts" – to comfort and help those in need.

What then is the best path for one who is not well? Should they visit "psychics" to hope for the good news they'll usually report? Should they ask their best friend's cousin's father's uncle who is religious, to pray for them? What exactly should they do?

In Parshat Vayera – Genesis 21 (21:17) we learn about Yishmael, the son of Hagar – maidservant of Abraham our Father. Sarah had literally thrown out Hagar together with her son Yishmael from the home due to his behaviour and reputation of ill repute – having found himself involved in a variety of sins including murder, idolatry and immorality.

Hagar found the exile hard, though her son became extremely ill. As they made their way back to her home – the home of Pharaoh himself, Yishamel almost died. Hagar – being of the descendants of Ham (from the story of Noah) had very little mercy on her son, choosing to place him under a tree some place, as she went to cry over her misfortune, opposite him. Here she would simply wait hopelessly for his death, rather than pray for him, hold him, or talk to him giving him hope.

It was Yishmael, however who turned his eyes heavenward with a prayer. He, the sick patient, opened his mouth to G-d asking for healing. Through his prayer, he was saved, ultimately to become fully healthy once again, and become the father of the Arab nations. From here, says Rashi, we learn that the prayer of a sick person themselves is greater than the prayer of others and it is the prayer most likely to be answered first!

While we tend to learn from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, we often forget that we can learn from everyone. It is Yishmael who teaches us that the greatest and strongest prayer for a sick person to be healed, comes not from others, from "wonder workers" and "miracle rabbis", the strongest prayer comes from the person themselves.

The very name Yishmael – meaning "G-d will hear" – teaches us this very idea. It is G-d that listens to us – very rarely others. When we find ourselves lost without hope and have nowhere to turn, not knowing what to do, our biggest Friend in the world is G-d Himself, the Creator of the universe who will always be there to hear our difficulties and answer our prayers.

Certainly we can turn to authentic Tzaddikim – righteous people – for help. But we should never feel for one moment that when we are faced with a difficult situation – one of illness or the like – that without these miracle makers we cannot get by. We should realize that on the contrary, it is our very own mouths that will serve us to be our strongest weapon in saving us. The prayers recited by our own mouths will be the surest way to bring blessing upon ourselves. We use them to reach out to G-d, to acknowledge that we believe in Him, and that we have a personal connection with Him.

We fulfill the commandments of the Torah, and we pray. In this way, we fulfill G-d's will and then turn back to Him, asking Him to bless us, to keep us alive, so that we can ultimately continue to serve Him each and every day of our lives.

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