AMIDA, EIGHTH BERAKHA: A Prayer for Good Health and Healing

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רְפָאֵנוּ ה’ וְנֵרָפֵא, הוֹשִׁיעֵנוּ וְנִוָּשֵׁעָה, כִּי תְהִלָּתֵנוּ אָתָּה
Heal us, HaShem, and we will be healed, save us and we will be saved, because You are our praise.
And grant health and relief for all our diseases, all our pains and all our wounds,
Because we trust that You are the one who heals us with compassion,
Blessed are You, HaShem, who heals the sick of Your people Israel.
This berakha deals with a very specific subject: our health. In it, we ask HaShem to heal us of our ailments and diseases, physical or mental, and we recognize that ultimately our physical well-being depends on Him.
Heal us, HaShem, and we will be healed, save us and we will be saved, because You are our praise.
In the text of this blessing we say: “Heal us, and we will be healed.” Does this mean that when we are sick we should just pray to HaShem and we should not go to a doctor?
This Berakha, and the subject of being sick and get cured, is a great example of the complex dynamics between man’s freedom choice and Divine intervention.
First,  the way one gets sick. In many cases a disease may be the result of our wrong choices, in terms of unhealthy eating habits, physical inactivity or carelessness. The Rabbis expressed this aspect of our responsibility for our own health in the Gemara Ketubot 30a:  הכל בידי שמים חוץ מצינים ופחים  “Everything is in the hands of God, except for colds and heat exhaustion .” In other words, if I deliberately expose myself to extreme cold or heat  I cannot expect HaShem to miraculously protect me from the consequences. Taking care of my health is my responsibility. On the other hand, certain diseases (perhaps most of them or the most serious) are not a consequence of our behavior or our bad habits, but an adversity beyond our control. In any case, we ask HaShem to help us and cure us of all illnesses, regardless of their origin.
Secondly, we must know that the Tora forbids a person to entrust himself to HaShem for healing without going to a doctor. We are obligated to seek the intervention of a physician (verapo yerape). We cannot expect the disease to disappear just by praying. However, what this Berakha makes clear is that when we visit the doctor, we know that it is ultimately HaShem who heals us. We believe that it is HaShem who inspires the doctor’s recommendation for our cure. We believe that it is HaShem who guides or holds the hands of the surgeon in the operating room. We know that ultimately, and through a myriad of human agents – doctors, researchers, nurses – it is HaShem who grants healing and relieves the sick. Doctors are the privileged agents of HaShem in the art of healing.
In short, we must do everything we can to avoid getting sick, and we must do everything humanly possible to heal ourselves. Including praying and asking HaShem to protect us from all sickness and to prolong our lives, recognizing that it is ultimately He who has the last word.
“And grant health and relief for all our diseases, all our pains and all our wounds…”
At this point I want to share something I learned from the Mr. Nessim Bassalian (who is now, BH, the great grandfather of two of my grandchildren). We had a small discussion among a few rabbis about praying for a person with a terminal illness. She was already in the last moments of her life, and one of the rabbis suggested that we should not pray for this person anymore, because that Tefila could be considered a prayer in vain, since the end of that woman was inevitable and imminent. I consulted with Hakham Bassalian and he told me something very interesting, which I believe is implicit in the above mentioned  sentence : “When we pray and we ask HaShem for Refua (health), we are not only asking HaShem to heal us; we are also asking HaShem to relieve us from pain, and prevent us from suffering, even as we die…”. Thus, we decided to continue praying for this person, for her relief. We pray that, if she has to go, that may HaShem spare her from pain and suffering in the final hours of her life.
May HaShem bless us all with good health and may He heal all those who need it. AMEN!