Few things in life can evoke as much despair as lying in a hospital bed surrounded by strange equipment, attended day and night by strange people who minister to our needs according to a strange clock. Often, the hospital experience is also filled with pain and discomfort, and encompassed by worry for our family and friends. And then there is the always present sense that death may come upon us, suddenly, perhaps in our sleep. I will, therefore attempt, all too briefly, to offer spiritual resources to the Jewish patient facing the helplessness and despair of serious illness.

The Jewish patient should begin by realizing that, while his or her doctors are doing everything within their power to heal her or his illness -- and it is a positive commandment from God for the doctor to heal -- doctors do not control our ultimate destiny. With that realization, the Jewish sick person should turn to God, the great Power that is beyond this universe, and seek help and solace. There are many texts; we need to know them and use them.


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Evoke the Presence of God, whatever that may mean for you, and recite the following psalms and prayers -- slowly, being in God's Presence, and thinking about the words.[2]

Psalm 139[3]

For the conductor, a psalm by David

Hashem,[4] you have probed me and You know.

You know when I sit and when I stand,

You discern my yelling from afar.

You sift through my life path and my sexual patterns,

You have intimate knowledge of all my ways.

Truly, no word comes to my mouth;

You, Hashem, already know all of it.

You encompass me front and back,

You set Your hand upon me.

Knowing this is more wondrous than I can absorb;

it is beyond me, I cannot grasp it.

Where can I run away from Your presence?

Where can I flee from Your Face?

If I go up to heaven, You are there;

If I descend below, You are there too.

If I fly with wings to the east,

if I dwell on the western horizon,

there, too, Your hand will guide me,

Your right hand will grasp me.

If I say, "Let darkness envelope me

and night be light for me,"

even darkness cannot be dark for You;

night will light up as the day,

darkness and light are the same.

Indeed, You own my inner organs,

You set my skeleton in the womb of my mother.

I give thanks to You, for I am struck with wonder at Your awesome acts;

Your deeds are wondrous; my inner being knows it well.

My inner force is not hidden from You,

that I was made in a hidden place, that I was woven in the womb of the earth.

You have seen my unformed body;

my limbs and organs are all written in Your book,

the days on which they were created, when not one of them existed.

How precious are Your friends to me, God!

How many they are!

I count them and they are more numerous than grains of sand --

I awake, and I am still with You.

Indeed, You will kill the wicked, Lord;

Men of blood, stay away from me,

those who invoke You for deceit,

Your foes, who swear falsely by You.

Do I not hate those who hate You, Hashem,

and fight with Your contenders?

I hate them with utmost hate,

they have become my enemies.

Probe me, God; know my heart.

Test me; know my confusions.

See if there is a tendency toward depression in me;

guide me to the way of this world.

Psalm 121 (A song for the steps)

I lift my eyes to the mountain range

from where will my help come?

My help will come from the Lord

Who makes heaven and earth.

May God not let your foot stumble.

May your guardian not nod off.

Certainly, the guardian of Israel

neither nods off nor sleeps.

May the Lord be your guardian.

May the Lord be your covering shadow.

May God be strong at your right hand.

For then the brazen forces will not strike you during the day,

nor the sinister forces at night.

May the Lord guard you from all evil.

May God guard your very being.

May the Lord guard your going out from this world

and your coming in unto the next.

One can also pray Psalms 130, 13, 6, and 20.


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After psalms, the sick person should pray for his or her own healing, together with the healing of other sick people. The following prayers are good.

Heal us

Heal us, O Lord, and we shall be healed.

Help us and we will be helped, for You are the One we praise.

Bring full healing to me (insert your name and that of your mother)

and to (insert the name of someone you know and the name of her or his mother),

as well as to all those who are ill

For You are a healing sovereign,

faithful and merciful.

Blessed are You, Who heals the ill of Your people Israel and all humankind.

May God Who Blessed ...

May God Who blessed our forefathers and our foremothers, Abraham and Sarah, Rebecca and Isaac, Jacob and Rachel and Leah, bless and heal me (insert your name and that of your mother) and (insert the name of someone you know and the name of her or his mother), together with all those who are ill. May the Holy One, blessed be God, be filled with mercy upon us to heal us and to restore us, to revive us and to strengthen us. May God speedily send full recovery, of spirit and of all our bodily limbs and organs, to us and to all those who are ill in Israel and in humankind. Now, quickly, in the very near future. Amen.

If you, the patient, are very ill, you should consider confessing your sins. The following prayer is good.

Confession as Death Nears[5]

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My God and God of my ancestors, accept my prayer; do not ignore my supplication. Forgive me for all the sins which I have committed in my lifetime. I am abashed and ashamed of the wicked deeds and sins which I have committed. Accept, I pray You, my pain and suffering as atonement, and forgive my wrongdoing, for I have truly sinned against You .

May it be Your will, O Lord my God and God of my ancestors, that I sin no more. With Your great mercy cleanse me of my sins, but not through suffering and disease. Send full healing to me and to all who are stricken.

I acknowledge before You, O Lord my God and God of my ancestors, that my life and my recovery depend upon You. May it be Your will to heal me. Yet if you have decreed that I shall die of this affliction, may my death atone for all the sins and transgressions which I have committed before You. Shelter me in the shadow of Your wings and grant me a share in the eternal life.

Parent of orphans and guardian of the bereaved, protect my beloved family with whose soul my own soul is bound.

Into Your hand I commit my soul. You have redeemed me, O Lord God of truth.

Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.

The Lord is God. The Lord is God. The Lord is God.[6]

Concluding Word

It is important to have family and friends when one is ill. But, in the end, each of us, alone, must search for spiritual strength. For some of us, this is a new experience, strange, anxiety-provoking. Fear not, and be not afraid. Let your own voice search in the traditional sources for the meaningfulness that is the reality of the Presence of God -- for healing, for strength, and for comfort.

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* This appeared in Voices in Our Midst: Spiritual Resources, ed. G. R. Gary (Atlanta, Scholars Press) 37-40. David Blumenthal is an ordained rabbi and is the Jay and Leslie Cohen Professor of Judaic Studies at Emory University.


[2] If the family, friends, or clergy recite these psalms or prayers, they should change the appropriate pronouns.

[3] The shift in margins in the psalms indicates a shift in voice.

[4] Hashem is the Hebrew term of intimate address for God used today by traditional Jews.

[5] Taken from A Rabbi's Manual, ed. J. Harlow (New York, The Rabbinical Assembly: 1965) 96-97, with slight changes.

[6] If the patient cannot recite this, the family, friends, or clergy should do it in the hearing of the patient. If the patient cannot recite the whole confession, she or he should recite: "May my death be atonement for all my sins. Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One. The Lord is God. The Lord is God. The Lord is God."

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