It is time for us to lift the veil of silence around mental illness, talking about it and our mental health journeys. Especially in the Jewish community.
At the end of the Auburn-Oregon BCS college football championship game, many winning Auburn players – including the coach and the quarterback – thanked God for being with them so that they could win the game. In fact, following the win, the Auburn team huddled together in a prayer circle.
At the moment, tens of thousands of people around the world were facing the sad painful reality that in spite of all the Mi Shebeirach healing prayers sung according to nusach Debbie Friedman (e.g. to her tune), Debbie died nonetheless.
Two groups praying; two different results. What gives, God?
Was God just too busy managing the results of college football championship that God didn’t have the time or inclination to respond to the tens of thousands of healing prayer requests for Debbie?
Is the Mi Shebeirach prayer just an ineffectual prayer or perhaps too nuanced (and God instead prefers the black & white, win or lose prayers of the football players)?
Are we getting this God and prayer thing wrong?
A few years back, when the Red Sox were playing in the World Series, I wrote a post entitled: “Can I pray that my Red Sox will win?” I wondered: Is there a one to one relationship between our prayers and the results? Or said differently, how does it work? Is it “We pray and God responds”? Then why didn’t God respond to the Mi Shebeirach healing prayers for the very woman – Debbie Friedman – who brought the Mi Shebeirach back into vogue?
Here’s how I answer that questions:
- First, read my answer to Why Do the Good Die Young?
- Then, peruse my article “God is a Fraud!” Cries the Woman Caring for her Elderly Mother
- Now, consider this:
Perhaps God does respond, but differently than we hoped.
The Mi Shebeirach is about healing, not necessarily curing. In my reading of Jewish tradition, I have not found any guarantee that God offers a cure. To cure is to remove the illness, the depression, or the disease from our bodies and minds. But the One Who Heals always offers us, and our loved ones, the promise of refu’ah, of healing. Healing is about finding a way to face whatever is ahead. It is about shalom, that sense of wholeness, amidst the brokenness of our lives. Healing is about chometz lev, the courage to go on and face the new day. And its about shalom – wholeness and peace.
So healing sometimes means that death comes and through it, a return of peace and tranquility, a return to the arms of the Holy One.
Which means that we, who are left behind, must face life without Debbie, even as we remain open to our still loving, ever caring God.
At Congregation Or Ami, we devoted our Shabbat services’ d’var refu’ah (words about healing) to asking for blessings of healing for Debbie Friedman. View the d’var refu’ah.
Debbie Friedman – nationally known Jewish composer, singer, and inspiration of the Jewish healing movement – composed and sings so many of the songs that enlivened Jewish worship worldwide: Thou Shalt Love the Lord Thy God, Lechi Lach, Mi Shebeirach, and a beautiful arrangement of Ahavat Olam.
Debbie is now in need of prayers of healing for herself. The singer, who at her concerts asked us to accept blessings of healing before singing along with her, lies in a hospital bed in Orange County. Her condition is grave. The latest news (from Friday):
Debbie remains in the hospital, sedated and breathing with the aid of a respirator. Debbie’s sister Sheryl reports that the doctors’ measures have not yet succeeded in opening up her lungs. They are rotating her bed in different ways in the hope that that may shake loose some of the material blocking her breathing.
We join with Jewish communities all around the world, praying for healing for Debbie, her family and her community.