By Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz
I once stepped into a small synagogue in Jerusalem to sit down and say some psalms. I found an out-of-the-way corner hidden behind a shelf of books and began to recite silently. I was up to Psalm 41 when the door opened and a religious man walked in, dressed in a black coat and black hat. He took his place on the other side of the shelf but I don’t think he knew I was there. We were alone but when he began to speak, it sounded more like a conversation than prayer.
“Hi,” he began. “I’m sorry to bother You. I am sure You are busy but this is important. I’ve told You about my friend, Aaron, and how he has been struggling with illness. Well, he has not gotten any better. Actually, he is getting sicker. I know that in the grand scheme of things, everything is good because You are good. If we could see it from Your perspective, the perspective of ‘was, is, and always will be’, we would understand that even this is good.”
“But we can’t, and I want You to look at it from my perspective and from the perspective of his wife and kids. You commanded me to pray and I can only pray like a man, a simple Jew. Aaron is a good guy, a great friend, and a wonderful husband and father. Maybe You think it’s better that he should leave this world now. But I disagree. Like Abraham arguing for Sodom and Gomorrah, I am arguing for my friend. Please change Your mind and heal him. Not because he deserves it or because I am a holy man. Heal him because we come to You and beseech You.”
The man closed his eyes and stood in prayer for a few minutes before leaving. As he walked out he whispered to himself: “It’s in God’s hands. I will keep praying my hardest but I will accept with love whatever He decides.”
I looked back at my psalms and could not believe that everything he had just expressed was said by King David in the very psalm I had been reciting.
King David understood that God was the source of all; illness as well as healing. As he wrote in Psalms 41:
Hashem will sustain him on his sickbed; You shall wholly transform his bed of suffering. Psalm 41:4
But David made a counterintuitive petition for salvation:
I said, “Hashem, have mercy on me, heal me, for I have sinned against You.” Psalm 41:5
David did not ask for healing based on his merits. In fact, he asks for healing despite the fact that he has sinned against God and might not even deserve to be healed. David understood that the power to heal was entirely in God’s hands and, as such, could come at any time no matter what the condition. Just as God’s mercy is limitless and transcends nature, so too any healing can be limitless and transcend nature.
When God created us He made us partners in Creation. We have the ability to petition God to change His mind and reverse the natural course of events. We are actually required to demand mercy and forbidden from standing off to the side, indifferent to the suffering of our fellow man.
At the same time, as servants of God, we must accept His judgment.
This is best expressed at the end of this psalm. After petitioning for healing and while still unclear on what form God’s judgment will take, David utters a simple declaration of faith:
Blessed is Hashem, God of Yisrael, from eternity to eternity. Amen and Amen. Psalm 41:14