Spiritual Healing

From: Manny

Dear Rabbi,

Is there anything in Judaism which would be akin to spiritual healing? By which I mean miraculous healing performed by oneself or another, like an expert healer, but through spiritual means as opposed to medical means. Thanks in advance.

Dear Manny,

Judaism definitely ascribes underlying spiritual causes to health and well-being or maladies and sickness. The basic idea is that to the extent that one is in tune with G‑d and His will, one will be healthy and protected from illness, while separating oneself from G‑d results in spiritual imbalance which is manifested as physical malady.

There are many examples of this throughout Tanach (Scriptures), but two verses found in the Torah are: “If you diligently heed the voice of the L‑rd, your G‑d and do what is right in His eyes, give ear to His commandments and keep all His statutes, I, G‑d, will put none of the diseases on you which I have brought on the Egyptians. For I am the L‑rd who heals you” (Ex. 15:26). Similarly, “So you shall serve the L‑rd your G‑d, and He will bless your bread and your water. And I, G‑d, will take sickness away from the midst of you” (Ex. 23:25).

Since health and healing from sickness is viewed in Judaism as stemming from spiritual causes, there is actually a very involved and extensive discussion in the sources as to whether one is permitted to practice medicinal healing and enlist the help of doctors, medical treatments and medicine. Despite the many opinions on this subject, the final outcome is that G‑d gives the doctor the ability to heal, and thus it is permitted to solicit common medical cures (Bava Kama 85a). But even here, one is required to simultaneously operate on the underlying spiritual plane by identifying his spiritual imbalance and rectifying it with repentance.

One main form of spiritual healing in Judaism is through prayer. Prayer becomes the metaphysical medium through which Divine powers of healing envelope and infuse a person in order to restore his spiritual balance and thereby cure its external manifestation. An example of this from the Torah is Miriam the prophetess who was plagued with tzara’at as a result of judging and speaking unfavorably about Moshe. When Aharon pleaded that Moshe intercede on her behalf, “Moshe cried out to the L‑rd, saying, ‘I beseech you, G‑d, please heal her’”, and she was eventually cured (Num. 12). Similarly, the Talmud (Ketuvot 62b) describes how the wife of Rabbi Chananiya died as a result of being suddenly startled. Rabbi Chananiya prayed on her behalf, and she was restored to life.

One of the more striking examples of the type of spiritual healing you’re asking about is the following story from the Talmud (Berachot 5b):

Rabbi Eliezer became ill. Rabbi Yochanon went to visit him and saw that he was secluded in a darkened room. Rabbi Yochanon uncovered his arm, and the light radiating from his body illuminated the darkness. He saw that Rabbi Eliezer was crying and declared, “If you’re upset on account of the Torah that you aren’t able to learn in your illness, it was taught, ‘Whether one is able to learn much or little, the main thing is his Heavenly intention’; if it’s because of your poverty, not every person has an abundant table in both this world and the next; if it’s because of a son that has passed away, here is a bone from the tenth son I’ve buried”.

Rabbi Eliezer explained, “I’m crying on account of this beautiful, divinely-created body which decays in the earth”. Rabbi Yochanon replied, “That is certainly worth crying over”, and the two of them cried together. Eventually, Rabbi Yochanon asked him, “Do you desire the spiritual benefit of continued suffering?” Rabbi Eliezer replied, “I don’t want the suffering, or its reward”. At that point, Rabbi Yochanon gave him his hand, Rabbi Eliezer took hold of it, and he was miraculously cured.

So, since the source of health is spiritual, Judaism recognizes spiritual healing. This takes the form of repentance, prayer, and even what appears like miraculous faith-healing.

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