Tuesday, April 14, 2020

From the Rabbi's Bunker April 14: Two Little Goats, the Most Healing of Prayers

From the Rabbi's Bunker

Let's start with a little good news.  
Like this exquisite photo, taken yesterday from Jersey City

And there's more.  Now there are...

Two Gadyas

Big News from the Stamford Nature Center, hailing the births of twin goat kids, Ash and Violet, on Saturday, April 11, 2020.  The Nature Center reports that in light of recent times, the chosen names, Ash and Violet, are deeply symbolic. Ash trees are known for symbolizing health and inner strength, and Violets are symbols of love.  Ash and Violet are the first Oberhasli goat kids born on Heckscher Farm, and are their first kids of the 2020 season. They are also the first kids born to both Sweet Pea and Houdini. Oberhasli goats are a mid-sized dairy goat that originated in Switzerland and came to the US in the early 1900s. Ash can be distinguished from his sister by his darker forehead.

Thanks to Sue Plutzer for sharing these glad tidings. The price tag for father, should he wish to buy these two little goats on Pesach?  According to the he total comes to four (4) zuzim, at two (2) zuzim per kid. Read the history of this fascinating song.

But given the fact that they were born on "Heckscher" Farm - and Heckscher is the Hebrew term for kosher slaughter - I'd shell out those four zuzim as soon as possible!

...and keep sending me photos of your Zoom Seders and mitzvah projects...

 like this one of Allen Krim hard at work making protective equipment for Stamford hospital health workers - TBE members have made 1600 surgical masks! 

See recent TBE photos at this link

...And just to interject a little needed humor, Steve Lander sent me this photo, along with the suggestion that we count our blessings - we could be having a bris today:


End of Passover

Passover concludes with the seventh and eighth days on Wed and Thurs.  A reminder that. aside from 8th day Yizkor services at 11 AM on Thursday (see temple e-nouncements for the Zoom link and password), there will be no routine online TBE business taking place online until the holiday ends Thursday night.  E-mail remains the best avenue to communicate emergencies during the festival.

The Quintessential Healing Prayer

Over the past few days, I've had some opportunity to speak with people on the front lines here in Stamford, and the picture they paint is not pretty - which is understandable, given that Stamford now has more confirmed coronavirus cases than 15 entire U.S. states.  Plus, we all have connections to those who are suffering so acutely in New York.  I preformed a graveside funeral today.  It's almost becoming routine, were it not so bizarre, to be wearing gloves and a mask and standing far from the very small group of mourners assembled.  I heard from the funeral directors of the literal stacks of bodies on the loading dock of the hospital - human beings who died with no family present, some of whom are not even identified.

We are too numbed by it all to fully grasp what is happening.  And if we are grasping it, we are terrified, because we can no longer say, "There but for the grace of God go I," when every trip to the drug store has become a journey though a minefield, and when the disease may be growing in us even as we speak.  None of us have ever been here before.  Cancer survivors, perhaps, but even they typically aren't faced with such short term uncertainty.

With all that in mind, let me share with you what Hasidim and Kabbalists consider the most potent of healing prayers.    It's called Ana B'Koach, and it's found in our siddur, just before Lecha Dodi on Friday nights.  Here it is, in translation (which, as you'll see, doesn't come close to approaching the power of the original).

So what is the healing power of Ana B'Koach? Essentially, it harnesses the positive qualities of divine creative power with the potency of words - Hebrew words that go way back to Creation. As the website neohasid.org explains, the word "God" does not appear, and yet the entire prayer evokes what Kabbalists believe are different names for God - 72 of them, to be precise, in seven lines. It's believed to have been composed in the 1st century CE by the great Kabbalist Rabbi Nehonia. Every line contains exactly six words. The first letter of each word suggests the 42-letter name that is also encrypted in the first 42 letters of the book of Genesis - from Beresheet (‘in the beginning’) to Vavohoo (‘without form, and void’).

Click here for a comprehensive explanation of all this, from a Kabbalist, but don't let yourself get too caught up in the weeds. Now look at the Hebrew, line by line, revealing layered meanings that have excited mystics for centuries.
Now here it is, chanted, in a popular melody originated in Israel (and here are several other niggunim used as incantations for this prayer):

Ana B'Ko'ach

Here is a story shared by the maggid (master story teller), Yitzchak Buxbaum(you can see some of the other tales he has collected here) demonstrating the healing power of this prayer. It can also be found online here.

Rebbe Mordechai of Neshkiz was at a big wedding in Slavita, Russia, which many great rebbes and rabbis attended. At that time, early in his career, the Rebbe of Neshkiz had become famous as a miracle worker, but many of the other Torah leaders did not yet know him. After the wedding, when the Neshkizer had already left, some of the Torah leaders who remained discussed among themselves how the Rebbe of Neshkiz had become such a great miracle worker. And they began to consider that perhaps his power was not from the side of holiness. So they decided to send two delegates to Neshkiz to ask him about it. If he would not tell them, then certainly he was not from the side of holiness, and they would do everything possible to oppose him. So they sent two rabbis to him to ask him why he was able to perform such great miracles.
The Rebbe greeted these two rabbis, who bluntly asked him their question. In reply, he went over and got a Kabbalistic siddur, and opened it to the page with the prayer Ana BeKhoach. He then pointed out to them the Kabbalistic secrets found in every verse and phrase of the prayer. He said, "If one wants God, blessed be, to help with livelihood, one meditates on this divine Name in this part of the prayer; if one wants another kind of help, one meditates on this other Name." And he continued to show them that all the divine Names that effected salvation in every possible situation are found in Ana BeKhoach. "But the truth is," he said, "I've never used any of these Names. Let me tell you how I came to have the power to do all these miracles."
"When I was a young man I once went out for a walk to be alone and to take a rest from my divine service [of Torah study and prayer]. While on the street, immersed in my thoughts, I heard the rumble of carriage wheels; I looked up and saw an open carriage slowly pass by, and in it lay a man who was terribly sick, with sores covering his body from the soles of his feet to the top of his head; and he was groaning in pain. I immediately began to weep for him. And I prayed for God, blessed be He, to send healing and cure him!
"I wept and prayed so much that my soul actually left my body. When I came to the Upper World, the angels began to yell at me, 'What are you doing here? Your time to pass away hasn't come yet!' And they ordered me to return to this world. I told them, 'If there can be someone in that world who is so sick and suffers so much, I don't want to be there any more! I can't bear it!' They passed what I said on to the heavenly court and the court sent back a promise to me that because I really felt the man's pain, anyone on whom I had pity would immediately be healed. That's where I got the power to perform all these miracles of healing."
When the two emissaries took this information back to the tzaddikim and Torah leaders who had sent them, they then sent out messages to all the cities where Jews lived to tell them that all the sick people should immediately go to Neshkiz and the Rebbe there would heal them.
And that was what happened. Sick people from all over went to Neshkiz and were healed, and so many of those who were crippled or bed-ridden threw away their crutches or the wooden pallets they had been carried there on, that they were used to heat up the baths.
There's an expression, "Pray as if your life depended on it." It's from St Augustine and it's not actually the whole quote. Here it is (at least according to BrainyQuote):

"Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you."

In that Hasidic story, we have a person praying so hard in the face of someone else's suffering that it actually squeezes the soul out of him. The miracles came not as result of any power of the incantation or prayer, but from the unbounded empathy that drove him to pray in the first place.

And so I offer you this magical, special prayer, Ana B'Koach, knowing that it does have some power - but that the power is dependent on the person who is praying it. Rav Yehudah said in the name of the Rav: "The 42-letter name is entrusted only to him who is unassuming, humble, middle-aged, free from anger, never gets drunk and is not insistent on his rights. And he who knows it is heedful thereof and observes it in purity, is beloved Above and popular below, feared by man, and inherits two worlds: this world and the future world."

So let's complete this Passover with a heavy dose of humility fueled by a matzah-flattened ego. And then, as we move through the end of the festival and beyond, let's pray for those who are suffering - so many of the wounded and the dead - and let's pray for a general healing for our world. Let's pray as if the world depended on it.

Because it does.

Hag Samayach v'Bari (A joyous and heathy - and healing - Passover)

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman

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