Why Should We Pray for the Shechina Within Our Personal Pain?
What is so Special about the Shortest Prayer in the Torah?
I have always appreciated the short and the small. Being a big girl among skinny sisters and being quite lengthy in formulating myself may have contributed to this penchant for the petite and the condensed. I value small pocket-size books and brief but intense prayers. Time is short so repetitive long Tehillim recitals are not my cup of tea. Yet, I revel in reciting the super short Tehillim 100 for gratitude, and while I struggle with mussaf prayer, my heart opens swiftly in the last intense neilah prayer on Yom Kippur. In Parashat B’ha’alotcha we find the shortest prayer in the entire Torah. When Moshe saw that Miriam had turned white as snow from the spiritual skin disease of tzara’at (Bamidbar 12:10), he entreated Hashem for her healing in a succinct prayer of only five short words: ‘Please, G-d, heal her, please.’ (Bamidbar 12:13). Why did Moshe not pray at length? Rashi explains that he composed such a short prayer on behalf of his sister, specifically because Miriam was his sister, and as the leader of the Children of Israel, he didn’t want to show favoritism toward his own family. So that the Israelites should not say, “His sister is in distress, for her he prays at length, but for our sake, he does not pray at length.” As a result, Moshe kept it short (Rashi, Bamidbar 12:13). We learn from here that even an abbreviated prayer is considered prayer (The Vilna Gaon, Kol Eliyahu, Bamidbar 23:23). Often short prayers are more intense as in the case of Moshe’s prayer. The word וַיִּצְעַק/vayitzak – ‘he cried out’ preceding Moshe’s succinct prayer indicates his raw emotion and great pain through which Moshe cries out to G-d in prayer. (Ibn Ezra, Bamidbar 12:13). From Moshe’s imploring cry we learn that his prayer was not only in his heart, but it was also expressed outwardly in keeping with the Talmudic ruling learned from the prophetess Chana: When one prays, s/he must move the lips and enunciate the words of the prayer (Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 31a). Articulating the words of our prayer enables our words to land in true reality, bringing our prayer down from the ethereal, conceptual realm into concrete existence. Moshe, who suffered from speech impairment (Shemot 4:10), now calls out with clear, concise, and articulate words of prayer – Please G-d, please heal her!
Guidelines for Personal Prayer
Commentaries wonder why the word נָא/na appears twice in Moshe’s short prayer. It seems to me that since this word means both please and now, Moshe used the word נָא/na twice to indicate urgency, praying “Please, G-d, heal her, now!’” Five words - so clear on one hand; yet, on another, words that over the centuries have inspired numerous commentaries, compositions, and meditative chants. The Hebrew word נָא/na – “please” takes up two of our five words. Please! It’s all we can ask. Like Moshe, we pray to hold on to life, to be able to fulfill our goals to the end. Please G-d, please, is all that we can say. Alternatively, Moshe prays: “My finest and most glorious G-d, please heal her!” Here the first נָא/na denotes praise, whereas the second נָא/na indicates beseeching. Moshe’s prayer teaches us correct prayer manners. Whenever we want to make a request, we must begin with some words of praise before making our entreaty (Ha’Ketav V’Hakabalah, Bereishit 40:13).
Praying for the Pain of the Shechina
Spiritual Healing – The Root of All Healing
Miriam was stricken with tzara’at because she compared herself to Moshe without giving him the benefit of the doubt. Therefore, she didn’t realize that Moshe was on a completely different level than all other prophets including herself. Just as in the case of Miriam, her illness was a result of her sin, so all our ailments too have a spiritual root. In EmunaHealing we ask Hashem to reveal the spiritual and/or emotional roots of the suffering of the person who turns to us for healing. “By realizing how we have distanced ourselves from Hashem, we can become close to Him. With the awareness of our health and success in life is dependent on rectifying the underlying roots, we can facilitate people to heal themselves. Before committing a sin, we are called the children of the living G-d. Yet, through wrongdoing, we may darken the great light of the Divine spark within us. We can then pray, “Please G-d heal her now” intending to remove the block covering our inner point of Divine light. This is the meaning of the prayer to Hashem “Please heal us for Your own sake!” Hashem, so to speak, heals Himself – that is the Divine spark from Above which is embedded and rooted inside the Jewish soul, as it states, “For My sake, for My sake, I will do…” (Yesha’yahu 48:11). Thus, we pay, “Heal me, O Hashem, and I shall be healed…” (Yirmiyahu 17:14). There are two kinds of healing – healing of body and soul. When my soul is healed, physical healing follows. Therefore, King David prays, “My flesh and my heart yearn; G-d is the rock of my heart and my portion forever” (Tehillim 73:26). My prayer request is eternally on behalf of the rock of my heart and the divine portion that Hashem breathed within me. The matter of healing the soul is to facilitate the soul to return and repent from the sin through which it distanced itself from the divine light. The main healing and teshuva are through surrendering and contemplating how we are null and void without the Divine vitality that Hashem imparts within us. With this awareness, we will always pray that Hashem heals His part within us, which will lead to our complete recovery on all levels (Yismach Yisrael, Parashat Metzora).
Kosher Mantra Meditation
Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan illuminates us regarding the numerous benefits of kosher mantra meditations, referring to the recital of a certain word or sentence over and over. Although biblical references to mantra meditation are ambiguous and not clearly stated, the Hebrew word הָגַה/hagah denotes a kind of meditation in which a word or sound is repeated over and over, like in the cooing of a dove or the growling of a lion (Radak, David Kimchi). Among the benefits of mantra meditation, it is an excellent relaxation method. When repeating a mantra over and over, the mind becomes habituated to it. Eventually, we can recite it without the words registering in the conscious mind, thus erasing all thoughts from the mind while reciting the mantra. It is therefore a highly effective means of clearing all thoughts from the mind. In later Kabbalistic schools, such as in sixteenth-century Safed biblical verses or selections from the Talmud or Zohar were used as mantras. Besides bringing us into a higher state of consciousness, the purpose of this technique was to provide us with deeper insight into the verse itself. As we repeat the verse, it eventually appears as if the verse itself were telling us its meaning. Rather than studying or analyzing the verse, we would then be communing with it, by experiencing its spiritual essence. The Arizal describes this experience by saying that the Zohar “spoke to him.” Rabbi Nachman said that if a person does not know what to say, he should simply repeat the phrase Ribbono shel Olam, (Master of the Universe). From the description of the technique, it seems obvious that Rabbi Nachman was prescribing the use of this phrase as a mantra to bring a person into a higher state of consciousness. A slight, very slow swaying, perhaps a half inch in each direction, helps ease tension during the initial meditative stages. After the meditation is over, remain in place for approximately five minutes, allowing the mind to absorb the effects of the meditation (Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, Jewish Meditation pp. 54-64).
EmunaHealing Exercise for Healing our Pain Through Kosher Mantra
1. Close your eyes. Allow your body to relax in a comfortable position. It's good to dedicate a certain space for your personal spiritual healing exercises and meditations. When you enter that space, your whole being will automatically be prepared to enter a meditative state. Take several deep breaths in and out of your nostrils, while becoming mindful of the rising and falling of your chest.
2. Moshe’s mini prayer for Miriam is powerful for all of us, to engender healing on all levels. Visualize within your mind the five words of this prayer אֵל נָא רְפָא נָא לָהּ/el na refa na la – please G-d heal her please!” Let us combine this prayer with our breath. Thinking or saying softly “El nah” on the in-breath and “refah nah lah” on the out-breath. This sort of breath prayer can become almost automatic, so that “with every breath” the prayers become a part of us. Repeat this prayer/breath sequence four additional times.
3. Imagine the first part of Moshe’s prayer turned into your own, אֵל נָא /el na praising Hashem, asking permission from the Most High Master of the Universe to beseech His grace prior to making your request.
4. Reciting the words of Moshe’s prayer can become spiritually healing for us all. It is a meditation for the healing of the Divine Feminine within all of us, regardless of gender. Take a few moments to set an intention. Something that you are ready to plead for with all your heart. Get in touch with your personal pain. What is the most pressing issue you are dealing with at this very moment? It could be a spiritual inadequacy such as a lack of Emunah (faith), an interpersonal issue, or an actual physical ailment or pain.
5. Tune into the issue for which you seek healing. Now recite or sing אֵל נָא רְפָא נָא לָהּ/el na refa na la while having in mind your most pressing issue or pain. Repeat the five-word prayer while envisioning the spiritual or emotional root of the issue or pain you are dealing with. Perhaps you need to work on a negative character trait like anger, arrogance, or jealousy to heal the pain you experience. Perhaps your healing will come when you strengthen your observance of certain mitzvot between you and Hashem like lighting the Shabbat candles in time, preparing your kosher food more mindfully, or taking additional time for prayer and meditation. It may be interpersonal issues that you need to repair to eliminate the painful issues that you are facing. Are you honoring your parents properly? Are you giving others the benefit of the doubt? Are you careful to speak only positive, caring, constructive words?
6. Imagine that the words of our prayer infuse your pressing issue or pain like arrows of healing light hitting the target that needs healing. Repeat the words of the prayer over and over again and again while letting yourself feel how this prayer’s healing laser beam light gradually dissolves the pressing issue or pain. Little by little the pain lessens, and you begin to feel relief.
7. Now in the midst of praying for your personal pain, can you envision how the root of your pain, or all of the pain in the entire universe is Above. Just as the mother’s heart and belly button is aching when her baby is crying, so does it hurt our Divine Mother – the Shechina – when we are in pain, when we are out of line, going astray off the mark. Now recite אֵל נָא רְפָא נָא לָהּ/el na refa na la on behalf of the Shechina – the feminine Indwelling Presence – to soothe the pain she experiences when we are out of tune with our Divine spark within. Repeat this prayer four additional times.
8. Now, envision how the repair of the pain of the Shechina, as it were, has ripple effects within our reality. Visualize a cosmic umbilical cord bringing spiritual sustenance and healing from the Shechina to you and your pain right now. Allow yourself to receive all the waves of healing flowing into you as you keep repeating אֵל נָא רְפָא נָא לָהּ/el na refa na la.
Listen to Rebbetzin Chana Bracha’s niggun (melody) for el na refa na la: (women only)