By Rabbi Douglas Goldhamer, Guest Torah Columnist
Torah Portion: Behaalothecha (Numbers 8-12:16)
I have always believed that the Torah is the profound word of G-d. And I think all of us find certain Torah portions that personally resonate with us. At our synagogue, we encourage our bar and bat mitzvah students to pick their Torah portion, so that they are studying something that has particular meaning to them. This week’s Torah portion of Behaalothecha has had particular significance for me for the past 45 years.
The Rama of Fano, Rabbi Menachem Azarya (1548-1620), wrote in his commentary Asarah Ma’amarot (Maamar Tzivakot Hashem, Pt. I, Ch. 13), that every organ and limb within Adam HaRishon contained the neshoma or soul of the future greats of all future generations. Adam HaRishon is the first man, before Eve was created from him. The Rama of Fano believed that all souls, neshamot, were contained within Adam HaRishon’s anatomy. Every great was destined to descend from Adam HaRishon. Some were associated with the soul of his head. Some were associated with his hair, his forehead, his liver, his heart, his eyes, etc.
The Rama of Fano further teaches that Moshe Rabeinu’s neshoma was associated with Adam HaRishon’s trachea. Now, the trachea is connected with speech and voice. Yet, we know Moses’ speech was very poor. When G-d appointed and anointed Moses Redeemer of Israel, Moses refused, “for I am heavy of mouth and heavy of tongue.” Yet, we learn that, as soon as Moses received the Torah, his speech and voice became as pure as crystal. To quote Zohar, “When Moses appeared, Voice appeared.” As soon as Moses received Torah, his voice united with speech and “then Moses became complete….voice and speech as one….” (Zohar II: 25b) The Rama of Fano teaches that as soon as the neshoma of Moses achieved its purpose on earth– to receive Torah– his physical flaw was corrected. The healer was healed when his purpose was perfected.
There is healing through mysticism. There is healing through faith. I see it again and again. There is healing through mohin de-gadlut (The Greater Mind). There is healing when we embrace that G-d lives within us, within every cell of our body. The Rama of Fano is right. The healing power of G-d is not only as close to us as the air we breathe, it rests deeply in our soul.
In this week’s Scripture, Miriam is afflicted with the disease of leprosy, after she speaks badly about Moses because she is jealous of his abilities as a prophet. She is also a prophet, but she knows that he is a greater prophet than she, and only Moses and G-d can bring healing to her. She asks Moses to heal her, because she comes to understand, in this week’s Torah reading, that Moses’ is the greatest prophet of the Torah. Our Torah portion states, regarding Moses, “B’chol baiti neeman hu. In My entire house he is trusted.” This refers to Moses’ prophecy that there are different levels of prophecy, but the level of Moses’ prophecy exceeds them all.
Moshe Rabeinu’s word was considered synonymous with Hashem’s word. If at first Miriam didn’t get it, she, as a prophet, finally intuited that the word of Moses was great, and she asked for his healing. Moses heals her by articulating five simple words, “El Na Rifa Na La”–one of the shortest prayers in Judaism, but they have the power of the Almighty within them.
Our Kabbalistic tradition teaches that Moses understood the power of the Hebrew letters. He knew that Hebrew letters, unlike the letters of other alphabets, did not rest on their symbolic power. It was not their representational power that gave them strength. The Hebrew letters have the true power of the Universe. When Moses’ disability dissipated and disappeared, when he received Torah at Sinai, when his soul’s purpose was made manifest, he knew then and there that the Hebrew letters of the Hebrew Torah contained within them the energies to create healing, just as G-d used the Hebrew letters to create the Universe.
The Rama of Fano’s text teaches how healing takes place when we manifest our purpose, as Moses did on Mt. Sinai, and when we use the power of the Hebrew letters. The Hebrew letters of our Torah are truly gifts of G-d to us.
I am honored that Charlene Brooks, our cantorial soloist at Congregation Bene Shalom and a rabbinic student a Hebrew Seminary, will give a benefit concert for our temple on June 10 at the Illinois Holocaust Museum. The title of the show, “Life Stinks…and other things my mother taught me” is certainly apropos for many of us.
I remember the early struggles of our synagogue as we tried to build our community. And during those early years, I had my own health battles. After being in Chicago for three years, I incurred a blood clotting disease. I had several surgeries; the doctors recommended amputation of my legs, which, as you can imagine, terrified me. However, I believe it was beshert that I met a wonderful rabbi who taught me Kabbalistic kavvanot, which I used with traditional Hebrew prayers to effect physical healing. This doesn’t mean that I abandoned traditional medicine (except the refusal to have my leg amputated). I embraced traditional medicine, but used ancient healing prayers, including this healing prayer of Moses, and Kabbalistic kavvanot and the teachings of Isaac Luria, Chaim Vital, and the Rama of Fano to effect physical healing. My rabbi and the rabbis of Kabbalah were right. There is healing in the words of G-d.
As we celebrate the temple’s 46th anniversary, even though I can’t say I am grateful that I had a blood clotting disease, I do recognize that because I, like Miriam, was afflicted with a disease, I learned once again that the Torah is the word of G-d, and that the words and the letters of our Holy Torah do contain within them great healing from Hashem.
Over the years, I have been inspired to practice these kavvanot daily with members of my community, and we use these prayers in our monthly healing prayer group, which is open to the public We all again and again experience the healing and the loving Presence of Hashem through the holy words of Hashem’s many healing prayers, found in our Hebrew tradition, including the amazing words “El Na Rifa Na La.”
Rabbi Douglas Goldhamer is senior rabbi of Congregation Bene Shalom in Skokie, and president and professor of Jewish Mysticism at Hebrew Seminary, Skokie.