Shabbat-Table Talks: Beha'alotekha

To read last year's Table Talk  click here.

By: Rabbi Ralph Tawil <>

[This week's Table Talks is dedicated in honor of Rabbi Ezra Labaton - may he have a refuah shelemah.]

Value: Praying for the sick. Unfortunately, sickness is a part of life. Of course, the high value that the Torah places on human life requires that we do everything that we can to overcome sickness and be healthy. While we should appreciate the advances that Medicine has made in understanding the health and sickness, we must also remember that, ultimately, Hashem heals. Part of our approach to the sick is to pray for them.


Background: In this week’s perasha, Miryam, Moshe’s sister is smitten by a case of leprosy after she spoke disparagingly about Moshe. Following Aharon’s plea to Moshe to have compassion on their sister, Moshe prays to Hashem with a very short but moving prayer. Did Hashem answer Moshe’s prayer? Read the text and decide for yourself.


Text: Numbers 12:10-16

When the cloud turned away from above the tent, Behold, Miryam has leprosy like snow. When Aharon faced Miryam, behold she has leprosy. Aharon said to Moshe: Please, my lord, please, do not impose on us guilt for a sin by which we were foolish, by which we sinned.

Please do not let her be like a dead child, who when it comes out of its mother’s womb, is eaten up in half its flesh.

Moshe cried out to Hashem saying: O God, please, heal her, please.

Hashem said to Moshe: If her father spat, yes, spat in her face, would she not be put to shame for seven days (at least)? Let her be shut up for seven days outside the camp, afterward she may be gathered back.

So Miryam was shut up outside the camp for seven days, and the people did not march on until Miryam had been gathered-back. (Only) afterward did the people march on from Hasserrot, they encamped in the Wilderness of Paran.


Analysis: Notice that Aharon first turns to Moshe to beseech God on Miryam’s behalf. Moshe was the person wronged by Miryam’s speech, his agreement to pray for her means that he bears no grudge. Moshe “cried out” in a very brief prayer for Hashem to heal Miryam. The prayer recognizes Hashem’s ability to heal. Moshe approaches God humbly, using the Hebrew word “na” (“please”) twice (2 out of the five Hebrew words are “please”). Hashem’s hears Moshe’s prayer, yet Miryam is not healed immediately. Hashem explains that he would heal her immediately if it did not mean lowering the standard of honor that are at least due to a father. Hashem feels the need to explain to Moshe why he cannot answer Moshe’s prayer by an immediate healing. It does not make sense within the norms and framework of the wilderness society. A daughter insulting her father would deserve at least a week’s punishment. That is what Miryam gets. From this point of view, one could say that Hashem did not answer Moshe’s prayer; Miryam was not healed immediately. On the other hand, Miryam does heal quickly. Leprosy was a very serious disease. People would travel very far to find a cure for this dreaded disease. Miryam’s case came upon her suddenly and it lasted for a relatively short time of seven days. This is the way that Hashem did answer Moshe’s intercessory prayer for Miryam.



Do you think it was right for Moshe to pray for his sister to get well?

Why should one pray for someone who is sick? (We believe that sickness and health are ultimately in Hashem’s hands. When we pray we recognize that fact and turn to the source of all health and sickness--Hashem.)

Should we only pray or do other things as well? (Of course, we have to do other things. Along with praying, we will definitely do whatever is in our power to help the person. Some of the ways that Hashem helps the sick get well, is by giving the knowledge and concern to the people around him (doctors, family, friends, etc.) to help him get well.)


One of the purposes of the very important missva of visiting the sick is to be able to better pray for the person. That is why we should not visit the sick too early in the morning, as he might be feeling a little better than his situation really is, just because it is morning. One might get the wrong impression that things are not that bad, and not pray as intently as one should. In addition, one should not visit the sick too late in the evening. They might be suffering more, just because it is nighttime. One might get the wrong impression that things are hopeless and not pray at all.


Discussion for older groups:

Do you think that Hashem listened to Moshe’s prayer? (On the one hand, no—she did not get better immediately. On the other hand, yes, because she did get better in a relatively short time.) One might say that Hashem considered Moshe’s prayer and it had an impact on Miryam’s quick, though not immediate, recovery. Prayer is not magical. It does not work automatically, even when the person praying is Moshe and even when he says all the right words. Hashem is not bound to listen to prayer and respond in the way that is being requested.


Of late, there have been several attempts to scientifically prove that prayer works. There is a great difference of opinion as to whether prayer has been proven to work scientifically.  There have been books written on the subject (_Healing Words_  by Larry Dossey, M.D.). There are also many articles and sites on the web that discuss this topic. Here is one example to start. Judge for yourself. (Of course, we believe that prayer works. Yet, some people need scientific proof.)


Prayer May Speed Heart Patient's Recovery [from Archives of Internal Medicine 10/25/99; 159:2273.]

Prayer may reduce the number of complications experienced by hospitalized heart patients, researchers report. Heart patients who were prayed for by others, but were not aware of being the object of prayers, had an 11% reduction in medical complications or the need for surgery or medication while in hospital, according to the investigators. The authors examined the medical charts of nearly 1,000 heart patients, following their health histories between hospital admission and discharge.

All patients in the study received standard medical care. But unbeknownst to the patients, the researchers provided the first names of about half the patients to 15 teams of five self-identified, practicing Christians. These individuals prayed daily for the healthy recovery of selected patients for a period of 4 weeks. The remaining patients were not prayed for as part of the study.

The authors report that the prayed-for patients had significantly lower complication rates than those not prayed for in the study. The research team effectively ruled out patient bias as a possible factor behind the benefits associated with prayer, since both patients and hospital staff were completely unaware of the very existence of the trial.

Indeed, they say they have no "mechanistic explanation" as to how the prayers of strangers might have helped speed patient healing. The odds that chance might explain the findings are about 1 in 25, according to the authors.

Instead, they refer to the theories of those who believe that "natural or supernatural" causes may be behind the 'healing power of prayer.' Believers in the 'natural causes' theory propose that some as-yet-undiscovered natural force is "'generated' by the intercessors and 'received' by the patients," according to the researchers.

On the other hand, those subscribing to a supernatural explanation point to the existence of God or some force beyond the ken of science. A 1988 trial involving 339 San Francisco patients also found results remarkably similar to those of the current study.

This article was taken from the following web site:

I have found the Templeton website to present a broader range of views on the issue:

But also see for the skeptics’ view.


To read last year's Table Talk click here.


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