In June 2013, feeling great, I was on a family vacation, walking in the Adirondacks, when my oncologist called with the alarming news that a routine test showed that my lymphoma had returned in a more agressive form. My wife and I sat anxiously holding hands in his office and I had no choice but to begin chemotherapy immediately before it was too late. This would be my fourth battle with cancer and maybe my last.
On the very eve of Yom Kippur, our Day of Atonement, lifegiving drugs were infused into my body through a port implanted in my chest. If you wonder why a Rabbi would be in the hospital and not in his Synagogue offering prayers it’s because our our God is a God of life and we are taught that saving a human life supercedes almost all of the commandments.
With the medicine coursing through me I was offering fervent personal prayers. These were not exactly the literal words of the Psalm which begins: “I lift my eyes to the mountains, from whence cometh my help…” I learned to personalize my prayers many years ago when I first faced leukemia and my Christian friends held my hand and prayed with me at my bedside and said: “Lord, please help our friend Hirshel; he wants to live to see his children grow up and rejoice in happy times.”
Yes, my friends taught me how to pray, and one night when I was all alone in my hospital bed, and shaking with awful fevers and chills, instead of praying “I lift my eyes to the mountains” I said: ” Dear God, please help me. I’m not asking You to get me all the way up the mountain, but could You hold my hand and keep me from falling all the way down the mountain into the abyss.” And those words were comforting to me.
Friends, when you pray for strength, may the words that come from your heart give you the strength you surely possess.