The Spiritual Journey

Rabbi Shalom Bentley

These responses are from Shalom Bentley, a Jewish rabbi, although they are not necessarily “Jewish” answers.

1. Where is God in all of this?

Throughout the Jewish Bible we see incidents of illness being used as a message from God to admonish his people. However, that does not mean that cancer is a punishment from God. We believe God endowed humans with free choice, and God allows the laws of nature to take their course. As Jews, we must use everything here on Earth to allow ourselves to be cured. Science and medicine are considered vehicles with which God can heal us. Through the positive thinking that comes through seeking God, this can augment the healing process.

2. Who do I pray this through to him?

Since Jews do not believe in any intermediary to pray to him/her, you can pray to God wherever you are. You don’t need a special building; it can be anywhere that you feel inspired to pray to God for healing. There is a Jewish tradition to say the Psalms of David for healing oneself, a friend, or a loved one.

3. Am I being punished for something that I did in the past?

Whilst in the more Orthodox streams of Judaism illness can be deemed as a punishment or message from God, even they do not see it in such black and white terms. Jewish mysticism sees disease as part of the “spiritual physics” of the universe. It is caused by spiritual impurities that manifest in the physical. Therefore, through spiritual cleansing one can help the healing process. Positive thinking and prayer are considered the best ways of accomplishing this. The biggest question regarding this topic is the following: If cancer is punishment for past deeds, why do we see evil people live long, healthy lives and some good people cut down by disease?

4. Why me?

This is the question that has been asked as long as humans have been able to reason. Why have I been singled out for this disease? The truth is it is a question that can never be fully answered. Jews believe that there is no way of really understanding God and his actions even though we must spend our lives seeking him. However, it is the question itself that can give us some insight. A popular saying is that God never gives you anything you can’t handle. Even though this seems like a cliché, if you consider it deeply, some comfort can be found in this statement. Whilst a cancer diagnosis is a terrible thing, people do overcome this disease and survive. Although the process itself is one of the most painful and difficult things a person can go through, we must believe through positive thinking that one can come back stronger and conquer it. This is a central pillar to the concept of faith, and there is no logic to it. It cannot be proved, but even scientific research has demonstrated that it can have a positive effect on what is inevitably a biological process.

5. Why did God let this happen?

Again, this is one of the most difficult questions to answer, and the reality is there is no right answer. Judaism teaches us that it is impossible for us as human beings to truly fathom God’s intent. The same question can be asked about the Holocaust, and many other terrible events in human history, past and present. Jews believe that God created the world and gave us free will. It is the idea of free will and its consequences that can give us an insight into this. Free will means God does not control our actions or the actions of the world around us and therefore we are not going to see God (for example) stop Hitler in his tracks. One can argue that without Hitler there would not have been the State of Israel. The same can be said about cancer. Cancer is caused by environmental and genetic abnormalities that in a spiritual sense are caused by nature’s “free will.” Within this context, we must use science and medicine to cure us.

6. Why did they get cancer instead of me?

Further to the answer provided for question #4, sometimes it can be harder for the spouse/parent/sibling of the patient than the patient. That said, there is no way of knowing why one person gets sick and another doesn’t from a spiritual perspective. However, one can believe that despite this we must do all we can to be there spiritually, physically, and emotionally for our loved ones.

7. Did I do something wrong to get this?

The answer to this question is similar to question #3.

8. What is going to happen to my family?

Throughout Jewish history, family has always been the most important aspect in a person’s life. A terrifying cancer diagnosis may appear as something that can rip a family apart, but it is also something that can bring a family together. It is through the support of the family unit that these obstacles can be overcome.

9. What is the single most important thing I need to do?

The single most important thing a person can do is remain positive. A positive attitude is the most powerful tool a person can have to combat cancer. This is based on the idea of free will. Through prayer and positive thinking, you are increasing your chances of survival.

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