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Torah Sparks

April 13, 2000 - 5762

Prepared by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD
Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations

Annual Cycle: Lev. 12:1-15:33; Hertz, p. 460; Etz Hayim, p. 649
Triennial Cycle I: Lev. 12:1-13:59; Hertz, p. 460; Etz Hayim, p. 649
Maftir: Numbers 28:9-15 (Rosh Hodesh); Hertz, p. 695; Etz Hayim, p. 930
Haftarah: Isaiah 66:1-24; Hertz, p. 944; Etz Hayim, p. 1219

Torah Portion Summary


(12:1-8) The laws governing a woman's state of ritual impurity after childbirth.

(13:1-59) Laws concerning tzara'at, the severe skin disease resembling leprosy. If judged by the priest to have this affliction, the person was declared unclean and kept quarantined.


(14:1-20) Instructions concerning the ritual of purification and the sacrifices that the metzora (person afflicted with tzara'at) must bring in order to complete the process of ritual purification.

(14:21-32) The sacrifices that the person brings if he/she cannot afford the regular ones.

(14:33-57) Law of tzara'at on a house; summary of chapters 13 & 14.

(15:1-33) Rules governing discharges of various bodily fluids and their effect on the ritual purity of the individual.

Theme: Illness and Faith

"When the skin of one's body sustains a burn by fire, and the patch from the burn is a discoloration, either white streaked with red, or white, the priest shall examine it. If some hair has turned white in the discoloration, which itself appears to go deeper than the skin, it is leprosy that has broken out in the burn. The priest (kohen) shall pronounce him unclean; it is a leprous affection." (Lev. 13:24-25)

  1. When a person is in pain, what does the Divine Presence say? "My head aches. My arm aches." (Talmud, Sanhedrin 46a)
  2. The Torah gave permission to the physician to heal as it is written: "he shall cause him to be thoroughly" (Exod. 21:19); moreover, this is a religious precept, and it is included in the category of saving life. (Yosef Karo, Shulhan Aruch, Y.D. 336:1)
  3. "Heal us, O Lord, and we shall be healed. Help us and save us, for You are our glory. Grant perfect healing for all our afflictions. For You are the faithful and merciful God of healing. Praised are You, Lord, Healer of his people Israel." (from the Amidah prayer in the weekday liturgy)
  4. On September 11, ten days before my 47th birthday, I was diagnosed with leukemia. Until that day, I had assumed that health and sickness were separate, distinct terrains. I've since learned that those boundaries don't really exist. Instead, the world is composed of the sick and the not-yet-sick. (Paul Cowan, "In the Land of the Sick," The Village Voice, May 17, 1988)
  5. An illustration of the estrangement of our people... Rarely does one find a prayer book or Bible near the bedside of a Jewish patient. But ever so often the rabbi is petitioned, "Pray for me." (Sol Landau, Length of Our Days: Focus on Judaism and the Personal Life, 1961)
  6. I'm not going to be alive much longer, so I'm planning my demise and memorial service. I've always admired the Jewish religion and I want to acknowledge that I'm Jewish. The only way now is through a memorial service which ties to my background and who I am. (Sheldon Golub, quoted in "AIDS - How can Judaism Help?", Hadassah, August/September 1992)
  7. If the universal experience of illness were addressed by the Jewish community, I think any number of people would find their way back to a Jewish connection. (Simha Weintraub, rabbinic director of National Center for Jewish Healing, in Newsday, May 7, 1996)
  8. Major illness is a life cycle event, bringing with it questions of faith, spiritual longings and the need for community. If medicine speaks the language of cure, then religion speaks the language of healing. (Avis D. Miller, Sh'ma, May 27, 1994)
  9. Perhaps the central healing practice which the (Jewish) tradition teaches is the mitzvah of bikkur holim, visiting those who are ill. There is a natural tendency toward isolation at times of illness. Not only are we often physically displaced from our usual roles as workers, parents and community members, but we often experience psychological isolation as well. The mitzvah of bikkur holim mitigates the existential aloneness and abandonment that illness often brings. (Nancy Flam, "Healing of Body; Healing of Spirit", Sh'ma, Oct. 3, 1997)
  10. A notice in The Jewish Week, December, 2000: Singer-songwriter Debbie Friedman will lead a healing service on Thursday evening... etc. The service features prayer, reflection, readings and music and is designed for those looking for ways to handle stress, illness or loss with renewed energy and hope.

Debbie Freidman's "Mi Shebeirach" Prayer

Mi She-bei-rach a-vo-tei-nu
M'kor ha-bra-chah l'i-mo-tei-nu
May the source of strength
Who blessed the ones before us
Help us find the courage
To make our lives a blessing,
And let us say, Amen

Mi She-bei-rach a-vo-tei-nu
M'kor ha-bra-chah l'i-mo-tei-nu
Bless those in need of healing
With r'fu-ah sh'lei-mah
The renewal of body,
The renewal of spirit,
And let us say, Amen.

(Music by Debbie Freidman; lyrics by Debbie Freidman & Drorah Setel)

"Sparks" for Discussion:

"Faith healing" is a pretty touchy subject for some people. Yet we notice that recently there seems to be a growing interest among Jews in what is called the "Healing Service." Some Jewish worshipers maintain that more emphasis should be placed on prayers for healing; that a one or two minute mi shebeirach prayer at the Torah Service is simply inadequate.

If more prayers for healing were to be introduced into the regular worship service, where would you place them? Perhaps, it would make more sense to hold a separate gathering for such prayers on a weekly or monthly basis at the synagogue. What are your thoughts on the matter?

Some Ancient Observations About Health

  1. When someone sees white leprous-like spots on his skin, what should he do? Should he examine them himself? "No", the Torah advises. He should go to the Kohen, who will look at them and determine if they are the disease tzora'at; because a person does not see his own faults (Talm. Negaim, Chap. 2, Mishnah 2)
  2. There are eight things that taken in large quantities are bad for a person but in small quantities are helpful: travel, sex, wealth, work, wine, sleep, hot bath and bloodletting. (Talm. Gittin 70a)
  3. Up to forty, food; after forty, drink. (Talm. Shabbat 108b)

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