"Refuah Ivri" - Hebrew Healing

"Blessed are You, O Compassionate One, the Healer of all flesh" (Asher Yatzar blessing).

Dear Friends,

Before we can have a meaningful discussion about Hebrew healing, we first need to understand the meaning of the term "Ivri" - Hebrew. This term is an ancient name of our people; moreover, our father, Abraham, was also known as the Ivri (Genesis 14:13). According to one explanation in the Midrash, the term Ivri is closely related to the Hebrew term "eiver" - on the other side; thus, it became a name for those who came from the other side of the Euphrates River (Genesis Rabbah 42:8). Ivri can also refer to someone who is willing to be "on the other side" - a person who has the courage to be different from the rest of society. In this spirit, the Midrash cites another reason why Abraham was known as the Ivri:

"Rabbi Yehudah says: All the world was on one side, but he was on the 'other side." (Genesis Rabbah 42:8)

Abraham was called an Ivri - the one who stands on the other side - because he had the courage to publicly proclaim the message of the Unifying One in a world where most people worshiped the various forces within nature – including the forces within animals - as gods. Abraham therefore helped people to understand that the Unifying One is the Source and Master of all the forces within nature.

Since the loss of the Garden of Eden, the creatures within nature that are most strong survive; thus, many nature worshipers also worshiped the most powerful human beings as gods, while the weak and the needy were despised and oppressed. In this cruel world, Abraham had the courage to proclaim that the Unifying One is the Compassionate One; moreover, he taught that human beings are created in the image of the Compassionate One with the capacity and the responsibility to emulate the Divine compassion for the poor and the oppressed. We, the People of Israel, are therefore called "Ivri'im" - Hebrews – as we are to have the courage to proclaim the liberating message of the Compassionate One in a world which is often hostile to this message.

Pharaoh, the powerful ruler of Egypt who was viewed as a god, did not recognize the truth of this liberating message. Moshe was therefore told to address Pharaoh in the name of "the Compassionate One, God of the Ivri'im" (Exodus 3:18). Pharaoh is to understand that the people he views as his slaves are actually Ivr'im - a people with the courage to stand on the other side and oppose the prevailing world view which leads to disunity and oppression. As Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch explains, Moshe is saying to Pharaoh on behalf of the Ivri'im: "Each one of us has the courage to uphold and carry on the nation's mission – alone and against the world!" (Commentary to 3:18)

We will now discuss how we, the Ivri'im – a small people within a pagan world - also had the courage to proclaim a radical Divine message about healing. This Divine message was heard in the wilderness of Sinai, where Moshe prepared our people for their life in the Promised Land. In this land, they would be surrounded by nations who believed that the only way to achieve healing was through deifying and worshiping the forces within nature. Moshe therefore conveyed to the people the following Divine proclamation:

"Do not prostrate yourselves before their gods nor serve them, and do not act according to their practices…For You shall serve the Compassionate One, your God, Who will bless your bread and your water, and I shall remove illness from your midst." (Exodus 23:24,25)

The Compassionate One is instructing us not to follow the pagan path to healing, for the true path to healing is through serving the life-affirming Divine purpose. The Ramban, in his commentary on the above passage, explains that when we serve the Divine purpose, the Compassionate One will remove illness from our midst through blessing our food and drinks:

"The Holy One, blessed be He, will bless your 'bread' – a term which includes all manner of food; moreover, He will bless your 'water' - a generic term for all liquids that people drink."

The Ramban adds: "When your food and drinks are good and healthy, they do not cause sickness; on the contrary, they heal you!"

As a result of following the Divine path, a Divine blessing will cause our food and drinks to be healthy and healing. This teaching can serve as an example of how the Torah views good nutrition as having a major role in both the prevention and healing of illness.

As we say in Yiddish, "Zei Gezunt" - Be Healthy!

Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen

Related Teachings:

In the following Divine proclamation, we find additional insights into Hebrew healing:

"If you hearken diligently to the voice of the Compassionate One, your God, and do what is just in His eyes, give ear to His mitzvos and observe all His decrees, then any of the diseases that I placed upon Egypt, I will not bring upon you, for I am the Compassionate One, your healer." (Exodus 15:26)

"I am the Compassionate One, your Healer" - According to Rashi, the Compassionate One is proclaiming: I am the Healing One Who teaches you Torah and mitzvos so that you will be spared from these illnesses, like the healer who says to a person, "Do not eat this thing, lest it bring you into the grip of such-and-such an illness."

Rashi is teaching us that the Compassionate One is the Healing One Who engages in "preventive medicine" by teaching us Torah and mitzvos which will preserve our health. In other words, if we, as individuals and as a community, fulfill all the holistic teachings and laws of the Torah, we will be blessed with good health.

Hazon – Our Universal Vision has additional teachings regarding Torah and health which are available upon request.

Hazon - Our Universal Vision