Rofei Cholim, u’Matir Asurim

While I was davening this morning, September 6, 2007, I had an epiphany. Sometimes it happens that during davening, a word, a phrase, an idea, will jump out at me. Generally, something I’d never noticed before.

Today, it was in the Amidah. In the first section of the Amidah, we describe God as “Somech noflim, v’rofei cholim, u’matir asurim,” meaning that God (although in Hebrew all in adjective form) “picks up the fallen, heals the sick, and frees those who are imprisoned.”

How are these three ideas connected? Quite frankly, the question has never occurred to me before. As of right now, I haven’t looked at any other text that may have already answered this question, although I’m sure there is one somewhere. In fact, I’m sure that, even if it was never written down, the author of the avot section of the Amidah probably had some rationale in his own mind; but that isn’t what davening from the siddur is all about. Davening is about finding and imposing your own personal meaning on someone else?s universal composition. As I stumbled over these words this morning, I stopped cold in my tracks. Lately I’ve just been blowing through davening as more of a chore than a spiritual experience. Sometimes you have to do that to get the “lo yadati” moment once in a blue moon.

But I digress. What is the relationship between God’s three aforementioned attributes?

The relationship between the first two is easy. Somech noflim, picking up the fallen, and rofei cholim, healing the sick, have an apparent correlation: someone who falls may get hurt. God is the healer of those who are hurt. I relate these not only in a physical sense but also spiritual: someone who has spiritually “fallen” may also need healing. But let us think about the correlation between the second couple: rofei cholim and matir asurim, freeing the imprisoned.

For the last few weeks, I have personally been struggling with the question, “When do we pray for a person to live and get better, and when do we begin praying for him to have an easy death, so that he no longer lives in pain?” Sure, we have his name on the mishebeirach list so that the community prays for his and others’ healing on the days that we read from the Torah; and I add this also to my own personal prayers every time I say the Amidah. But is it in his best interest for us to pray for his healing? Or is it selfish to ask God to keep him here just for us?

Perhaps a person in that state of life — in which people are praying for him and in which doctors are helping him, but in which he is in so much pain that his quality of life will never renewed to the level at which it was and at which he was truly happy — has the status of a prisoner. We are not in a position to make the judgment call about whether or not someone is worthy or wants us to offer our prayers. From this progression in our standard Amidah, and in accordance with our liturgy fro the upcoming High Holidays, we learn that ultimately it is God’s decision: God picks up the fallen, and God heals if the fallen needs healing. Then, if the individual in need of healing is not in need of physical healing but rather is trapped and in a position of true bodily failing, leading to spiritual and emotional failing, God might choose to release him from the prison of This World, and allow his spirit to go happily into the World to Come.

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