How do we know that there were no crippled Israelites who received the Torah at Mount Sinai? The Torah tells us that “they took their stand at the foot of the mountain” (Exodus 19:17). The word “stand” means literally standing on one’s feet. How do we know that none of them had broken arms? The Torah says that they responded, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do” (Exodus 24:7). How do we know that none of them were deaf? They continued, “and we will [hear].” How do we know that none of them were blind? The Torah says that “all the people saw the thunder” (Exodus 20:18). How do we know that none of them were mute? The Torah says that “all the people answered” (Exodus 19:8). The only conclusion to draw from this is that they were healed. (Exodus Rabbah 7:1)
The month of Iyyar is the bridge between the exodus from Egypt in the month of Nisan and the giving of the Torah in the month of Sivan.
The people who left Egypt were broken and battered victims of appalling abuse. Not only did they live in an ancient society without modern medicine, but they were a slave caste, beaten and ruthlessly forced to work. Their lives and their bodies were treated as worthless. Surely among the two million people or so who encamped at Sinai, hundreds of thousands would either have disabled limbs, eyes, or ears.
But along the way, a wonderful thing happened. The Israelites reached a pool of bitter water called Marah. “Marah” means bitter, just like the maror that we eat at the Passover Seder in re-enactment of the Israelites’ suffering. But through a miracle, God changed the bitterness of the water into sweetness and said,
“I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on [Egypt], for I am the LORD, your healer.” (Exodus 15:26)
The sages noticed an interesting coincidence in the phrase, “I am the LORD, your healer.” In Hebrew, the initial letters of this phrase spell the name of the month of Iyyar. Thus, the month of Iyyar epitomizes our journeys from darkness to light and our transitions from bitterness to sweetness.
Another name for this month is Ziv (1 Kings 6:1), which means “brilliant light” or perhaps “blossoming.” What a fitting name for the month when the risen Messiah appeared over and over again to his awestruck disciples, his formerly broken body transformed by resurrection!
Miracles of healing sometimes happen. They are documented in Jewish and Christian literature. You may have experienced one or more yourself. But there is a danger associated with experiencing such an overwhelming display of God’s power: We can be blinded to the reality that all healing comes from HaShem.
The medical field is one of the most highly respected in Jewish culture. Healing is God’s signature, so those who administer treatments and cures, who alleviate suffering and prolongs life are truly walking in the ways of the Creator. They are not in competition with him; they are his agents in the world, whether they realize it or not.
You probably already know the popular sermon illustration of the drowning man, the canoe, and the helicopter, so I won’t waste pixels on it here, but it encapsulates the Jewish perspective on healing quite well. All knowledge, wisdom, insight, intelligence, and understanding—even of the scientific type—come from HaShem. He endowed humans with uniquely advanced ability to reason and learn. He granted some people exceptional skill and interest in medicine, leading them to discover the powerful treatments and cures that have always existed latent in his creation.
That means that in an overwhelming majority of cases, God’s healing power takes place within the natural laws and patterns of the world. This, too, comes with danger, as we may fail to recognize that such healing is from God; we may mistakenly attribute it to man’s independent achievement.
Judaism teaches that the commandment not to “put the LORD your God to the test” (Deuteronomy 6:16) refers to forcing God’s hand by placing yourself in a situation that relies on miracles. (For example, Yeshua cited this verse to explain why he shouldn’t just jump off a cliff to summon angels.) Ironically, by relying only on miracles, we deny God’s power by distancing him from the natural world that he created.
Every moment of our lives is sustained by God’s compassionate care. Each time we arrive at a significant moment we bless God “who has kept us alive, upheld us, and let us reach this time.” For that matter, every time we use the restroom we bless God “who heals the body and is wondrous in what he makes.”
Many Jews also recite a prayer before taking any medication or medical treatment:
“Let it be your will, O LORD, my God and God of my fathers, that this endeavor will result in my healing, for you freely heal.”
The apostles taught that when one is sick, they should apply both prayer and medicinal treatments: “let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord” (James 5:14). “Anointing with oil” is not some kind of ritualistic hocus-pocus. This is how medicines were applied in the first century.
Having an ailment does not necessarily indicate that a person is guilty of some sin; nonetheless, Judaism teaches that physical ailments have a spiritual counterpart. This means that a complete treatment will account for both. Consider how Yeshua performed both spiritual and physical healings for the people he touched.
And so, as the month of Iyyar passes, we not only calculate each day as the Omer count increases, but we take an inventory of ourselves, asking God to regenerate us spiritually so that we, too, can stand, beholding and hearing at Mount Sinai.