Countdown to Chanukah 17 – Steroids For The Soul
Dedicated to Partners In Prayer
If one feels death approaching, he is instructed, ‘Confess [your sins]!’
And they say to him, ‘Many confessed [their sins] and died not, and many who have not confessed, died; and as a reward, should you confess, perhaps you will live;
and he who confesses [his sins] has a portion in the world to come.
And if he is unable to make confession with his mouth, he should confess in his heart.
If he knows not what to confess, they instruct him, say, ‘My death should be an expiation for all my sins.’
All these instructions are given to him, not in the presence of … minors, lest they cry and break his heart.
The order of confession for a dangerously ill person, is,
‘I confess before Thee O Lord, my God and the God of my fathers, that my healing and my death are in your hand. May it be Thy will, to heal me completely, and if I die, my death should be an expiation for all sins, wrongs and rebellious acts, which I have committed sinfully, wrongfully and rebelliously before Thee, and grant me a share in Paradise, and favor me with the world to come which is stored away for the Righteous.’ (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 338 – sefaria.org)
I was, in my capacity as a pulpit rabbi, privileged to recite this paragraph with terminal patients tens of times.
On the day I recited it for myself in a hospital room in Hannover, Germany, I realized that I had not fully appreciated the prayer when reciting it with and for someone else. I had missed the most important message:
I prefer, at this point, to use my own translation:
“May I attach to Your original Will to create the world and to create me, to heal me completely,”
No matter how desperate the situation we do not give up hope on the power of our prayers.
Even in our darkest moments we believe that we can speak to the Creator.
“and if I die, my death should be an expiation for all sins, wrongs and rebellious acts, which I have committed sinfully, wrongfully and rebelliously before You,”
We can do Teshuva – Return to God – repair our relationship with the Creator even in the final moments of life.
(This is my favorite part🙂
“Grant me a share in Paradise, and favor me with the world to come which is stored away for the Righteous.”
I believed I was dying.
Debbie was told to fly to Germany without assurance I would be alive when she arrived.
I wasn’t feeling very well.
I believed I still had the ability to request a ‘share in Paradise,’ and a portion in ‘the world to come with the righteous,’ even as I was thinking about my ‘sin, wrongs, and rebellious acts’!
Why did I have to wait till such a moment to connect with such powerful convictions?
The Vilna Gaon, in his commentary on this law, teaches that we need not wait; this is a prayer than can be recited by a perfectly healthy person.
It seems he holds that, if we can focus on the underlying messages of this prayer, we can use it as steroids for the soul, training our spirits, developing the spiritual muscles to live every day with the lessons inherent in this prayer.
As we reflect on how we processed the Covid crisis, we can see how well-developed were our spiritual muscles. We naturally focused on ways to improve ourselves, believing we could connect with the Creator and the Original Will to bring this world into being.
We used our trained spirits to maintain hope and confidence, to help others, to consider ways to return to God.
We found in our increased learning, our laser focused Mitzvot, our strategic prayers, that our souls are on powerful steroids.
We found ways to utilize this in helping others, even those facing mortality:
(Back to my translation/reading of this Halacha:)
“If one feels death approaching, he is instructed, ‘Confess [what it is you truly believe! What you most want! ]!’”
“And they say to him, ‘Many confessed [their sins] and died not, and many who have not confessed, died; and as a reward, should you confess, perhaps you will live;
and he who confesses has a portion in the world to come.’”
We offer hope.
We connect people to the power of prayer.
We remind people how to use every moment of life to live eternally.
(This was an essential conviction of those who established Partners In Prayer.)
The Music of Halacha:
“All these instructions are given to him, not in the presence of … minors, lest they cry and break his heart.”
We are reminded of the incredible sensitivity demanded of us when dealing with someone who is ill; we cannot allow anything to intensify their suffering or lower their spirits.