The Jewish Way of Healing – Body and Spirit

Jewish tradition has long recognized that there are two components of health: the body and the spirit. The Mi Sheberach prayer, traditionally recited for someone who is ill, asks God for refuah shleima, a complete healing, and then specifies two aspects: refuat hanefesh, healing of the soul/spirit/whole person, and refuat haguf, cure of the body. To cure the body means to wipe out the tumor, clear up the infection, or regain mobility. To heal the spirit involves creating a pathway to sensing wholeness, depth, mystery, purpose, and peace. Cure may occur without healing, and healing without cure. Pastoral caregivers and family members of seriously ill people know that sometimes lives and relationships are healed even when there is no possibility of physical cure: in fact, serious illness often motivates people to seek healing of the spirit.

Recent research in the mind-body field suggests that the disease process itself may be affected by psychosocial healing; mind and spirit may not be as separate from the biochemistry of physical illness as we once thought. For instance, Dr. David Spiegel of Stanford University found that women with metastatic breast cancer who participated in a one-year support group lived significantly longer than women who received similar medical treatment without a support group ( Healing and the Mind, Doubleday). Being part of a meaningful community that encourages self-expression can affect the course of an illness.

At the point when Shoshanna turned toward the Jewish community, she was not expecting to find a physical cure, but she desperately hoped for healing of the spirit. Shoshanna needed to overcome her negative association with Judaism in order to benefit from its religious wisdom. With greater hunger for spiritual nourishment, she enrolled in a seminar about Jewish views of health and illness, took part in a study group exploring Judaism and feminism, and began attending regular “Services of Healing” where Jews dealing with illness and grief pray together for strength and comfort. At 50 years of age, she began her own journey of Jewish learning and spiritual development.