I am sure that you share with me a sense of overwhelming sadness when we hear of the numbers of those who have come down with the virus and those who have died. This feeling of sadness is especially felt when we hear of the staggering numbers in California. Whereas there are things we can and must do to reverse this virus’ trend including masking and social distancing, and we can have real hope that the vaccines will make a distance, it does seem like Wordsworth wrote, “The world is too much with us; late and soon Getting and spending, we lay waste our power; Little we see in Nature that is ours…”
There is, however, one action I believe that we can do, and I believe that not enough people are doing, and that is the God given ability to find hope even in the darkest moments of life through prayer.
As a pulpit Rabbi for more than 45 years and as hospital chaplain for 30 years at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer in Manhattan, there were many dark moments I shared with thousands of families over the years.
I certainly will never forget when I received a call from one of the Temple families that earlier that day, as he was preparing for a Sunday barbecue, he called his 19-year-old son, who was at a friend’s house, to hurry home. While his son was hastily pulling out of his friend’s driveway on his motorcycle, he was hit by an oncoming car and died immediately. I went over to the family’s homes and we wept and prayed and never stopped praying.
I will never forget receiving a call, while making my weekly rounds at Sloan-Kettering, that there was a patient who refused to go into surgery before seeing me. As she was being prepared for major surgery, she asked her surgeon what the chances were her coming through this operation alive. When he answered, “1%,” she panicked and asked to see the hospital rabbi/chaplain. I went to her, took her hand and prayed so extremely hard. By the way, she did survive the surgery.
Then there was the grandmother of a 14-year-old who was lying in bed in a coma. His lungs were filled with over 40 tumors and he was dying. When she saw me, she came up to me and asked me if I could go into her grandson’s room and offer Tehillim, psalms, on his behalf. I said, “Of course,” and went into his room, took his hand and began praying.
Recently, I was studying the commentary by Rabbi Shalom Arush to Likutei Moharan, the lectures of Nachman of Breslov. I found great comfort and strength when I read his words: “The true sword of a person is Prayer.”
Prayer, either written or from the heart, is one of the most powerful weapons we as human beings have as no matter what the odds against us are, we can always pray. We can always cry out. We can always scream. We can always plead. We can always petition. We can always just speak our minds, hearts, and souls and talk with the Ribbono Shel Olam, the Master of the All Life.
We are now in a battle against this horrible virus. In addition to all the other weapons given to us through the great dedication of researchers and scientists, we have the weapon of prayer. For a while longer, we are told the numbers of those becoming ill and those dying will continue to climb. We have, however, this weapon of prayer which is our “fierce, great and powerful sword” (Isaiah 27:1) that will rip apart at this illness and the depression and negativity that is tearing at our lives and our society.
Heal us Adonai, and we will be healed.
Save us Adonai, and we will be saved. Amen!