From the Acting Head of Jewish Life
El Na Refa Na La
The simple power of healing prayer
In the closing chapter of our Parasha, Beha’alotcha, an unusually “up close and personal” story is shared about Miriam, Aharon and Moshe (Bamidbar 12:1-16). Miriam and Aharon are discussing, behind Moshe’s back, their concern or displeasure about the fact that Moshe had separated from his wife, Tzipporah, ostensibly because having spoken with God “Face to face” he was now so spiritual and could no longer interact on a physical level with the world. They contemplate the fact that they are also prophets and yet did not have to separate from their own spouses and families as a result, so why should Moshe? There are many other interpretations of what was said and why, but we will go with this version for the purposes of this Dvar Torah.
God “hears” this exchange and is incensed on behalf of Moshe. God berates Miriam and Aharon, expounding vehemently on the vast difference between the “normal” prophets who receive their messages from God through visions, dreams and riddles and the unique prophetic relationship between God and Moshe, who communicate “mouth to mouth” almost as equals, face to face, with Moshe fully alert.
Miriam – who had initiated the offensive conversation with Aharon – is left stricken with Tzara’at (a disease likened to leprosy). Aharon, desperate in his anguish, begs Moshe to speak to God on their sister’s behalf.
Moshe’s response to God, is at once beautiful and troubling in its brevity (Verse 13):
אֵל נָא רְפָא נָא לָהּ׃
El Na Refa Na La
“Oh God, I beseech You, heal her please!”
Many commentators have considered the reasons why Moshe’s desperate request is just five words long.
In the Etz Hayim Torah, p. 825, the Editors comment “Moses is caught in a dilemma. On the one hand, Miriam had spoken openly against him and deserved to be punished. On the other hand, as his sister, she evoked his compassion. The result is this terse prayer. Its brevity seems to reveal Moses’ lack of enthusiasm and minimal compliance with Aaron’s plea”.
Others suggest similarly that Moshe was deeply upset with Miriam, but despite trying to reign in his feelings, he could only utter a prayer that was short and to the point.
Rashi explains that Moses’ prayer was only five words long so that the Jewish People would not be jealous of the length of his prayers for his sister.
Another Spanish commentator, Rabbeinu Bachya, explains that the intention of it being kept short was to show that this was not a prayer just in his heart or mind, but one he spoke out loud in keeping with the Talmudic ruling (Berachot 31a) that ‘when one prays, one must move the lips and enunciate the words of prayer’.
Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, the “Velveteen Rabbi” shares this deeper idea: Moses’ prayer has 11 letters, meant to call to mind the eleven-letter name of God, the name God gives to Moses in a powerfully intimate moment at the burning bush: אהיה אשר אהיה, ehyeh asher ehyeh, “I will be who I will be.” When we use this short prayer to pray for healing, we implicitly call upon God who is ever-changing. We call upon the God who is continually becoming, to heal and strengthen our loved one who needs transformation and change.
Wishing a Refuah Sheleimah, רפואה שלימה, a swift and complete recovery to all those in need of healing, of mind, body or spirit.