By Rabbi Joseph Ozarowski, D. Min, BCC, Rabbinic Counselor and Chaplain, JCFS Chicago
When the great Hasidic leader Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchak, known as “the Yud” of Psischa, heard that the Koznitzer Maggid was very weak, he summoned two of his Hasidim and told them, “Go to Koznitz and sing before the Maggid.” They arrived on a Friday night. Representing themselves as men with good voices, they were invited to sing the Zemirot, the Shabbat hymns. With every song, the Maggid felt better and better. He finally exclaimed, “The Holy Yud knew that I have walked in all worlds except the world of music. He sent me his singers to demonstrate to me that I still have a task in this life – to explore the world of song.”
The charming Hasidic story teaches us several lessons. One is that we all have tasks in life that we have not accomplished. Until we leave this Earth, part of life is discovering what meaningful acts we can do with the tools the Holy One has given us.
But the story has another related message. There are many ways to affect healing. Jewish Law requires us to seek the best medical care we can. But our Torah also recognizes that there are other paths to healing that walk hand-in-hand with medical care. Today these are called “alternative healing” and are increasingly recognized by the medical professions as having a positive beneficial effect on the healing process. Spirituality, organized religion, music, art, meditation and yoga all fall into these categories. The studies of Herbert Benson, Kenneth Pargament, Harold Koenig, Wendy Cadge and others suggest that these forms of alternative healing can actually play a helpful role in physical healing as well as easing the patient’s mind, offering both connection as well as calmness.
A while back over an earlier Chanuka, I had an experience similar to the story of “the Holy Yud.” I went as a chaplain to visit one of our clients. She appeared very frail and weakly smiled at me when I entered her room. It was difficult for her to speak and after she greeted me, she said she was uncomfortable. I acknowledged her discomfort. Then I took her hand and began singing Chanuka songs to her. I sang Maoz Tzur, some classic English Chanuka songs, and some modern Israeli songs in Hebrew. Her smile brightened. She laid back on the bed comfortably. She listened and, at some point during my little concert, began to move her arm in beat with the music. Eventually she fell asleep. She had an ethereal look on her face when I left her room. Another little miracle on Chanuka.
I do not claim any special magic in my work. Our JCFS Chaplaincy Team members have experiences like this frequently. If you are lonely, ill, or just feeling the need to talk to someone about things bothering you, please call Carol Brumer Gliksman at 847.745.5404. Carol can connect you to one of our compassionate chaplains who will listen and support you through tough times. We can’t fix things. But we can help and walk with you on your journey.
We can all follow in the footsteps of “The Holy Yud,” recognizing that healing can take many forms. We all have tasks left in this life. Our tradition has some tools that can help us reach those sublime goals. Please call on us to help.