PRAYING FOR THOSE WHO ARE UNWELL
The Torah goes into great detail in last week’s and this week’s portion describing an affliction knows as tzara’at. This came upon a person as a result of transgressions such as slander. The practical application of these laws with the different kinds of sores and scabs and burns have ceased to have had relevance for thousands of years.
Nevertheless, a profound and pertinent detail emerges from the way the sufferer was to conduct himself. The Torah writes:
“The afflicted person…shall cloak himself up to the lips and he is to call out: Contaminated, contaminated.” (Vayikra 13:45)
In other words, he is to make known his circumstances to others.
Why should this be so?
Rashi (d. France 1105), quoting the Talmud (Moed Katan 5a), gives the obvious explanation so that people can choose to avoid him so that they do not contaminate themselves. Nevertheless, the Talmud offers another different explanation. By letting people know that he is suffering, the Talmud states that people will be motivated to pray for him. There is no sense here, that a person should be blamed for the suffering he has brought on himself. The Talmud is being completely non-judgmental. Even though the affliction of tzara’at might have come as a result of serious sins that the sufferer had committed, that is not the business of other people. Says the Talmud: tzarich lehodia tzaro lerabim, verabim mevakshim alav rachamim. – “He should make his anguish known to others so that they can plead for Divine mercy on his behalf.”
The commentators understand that this is not a situation that is exclusive to the metzora. It applies to anyone struck down by an illness. He or she should let other people know so that they can pray on their behalf.
Indeed Nachmanides (d. Israel 1270) writes that this is a fundamental part of the mitzvah of visiting the sick. “If someone visits a sick person and does not pray for him, he has not fulfilled his duty.” (Torat Ha’adam.)
When, in our community, we say prayers on Shabbat and other occasions on behalf of those who are unwell and the community listens to those prayers and responds Amen or Refua Shelema, we are fulfilling this rabbinic teaching of verabim mevakshim alav rachamim – the public pleading for Divine mercy for those who are ill. May G-d answer our prayers and grant those afflicted a refua shelema bekarov – a complete and speedy recovery!