Asher Yotzar - A Prayer for the Dammed

This is a medical Megillah about a Jewish writer. It is not his usual illuminating commentary on the deep mysteries of our faith; like why is the Rabbi's speech always longer on those Saturdays when our writer friend consumed three glasses of iced tea before services. (Why is it that, when he needs to flee to that small room with porcelain furniture behind the reception hall, his Rabbi glows with prolonged and endless inspiration?)

Our twitchy writer is waiting for, "in closing, my friends....." and all he's getting is, "and there's another incident in Leviticus that.....".

OK, lets be honest (and extremely personal) the "writer friend" is me.

So here's the real problem. It's 2:00 a.m. in the morning and I've got a medical problem like that iced tea discomfort multiplied by a hundred miseries. Like the Tower of Babel is to a stack of pancakes is this impediment to that Saturday morning discomfort. Let's call it a stoppage - a blockage - without using a map of the human torso to pinpoint the problem. My wife, a Florence Nightingale, an experienced RN, understands immediately. We're off to the ER. "Where's George Clooney?" I muttered in my hysteria. "I want George Clooney."

This episode began a week before with a series of "procedures". "Procedures," the mantra of the medical community, since it doesn't raise visions of blood, pain, and tears. "Procedure? Sure Doc, let's do a procedure. You didn't say cutting, slicing, sewing, cauterizing, removing, did ya? Procedure - such a nice non-intrusive word. Do it."

And we did. Lots of 'em for a week - topped off by two days in that strange piece of downtown real estate that has 400 bedrooms, 400 baths - not one fireplace - and a large non-kosher cafeteria. And if you're lucky, the rent's covered by Medicare.

So now I'm home, after a week you'd wish on the commander of Hezbollah. It's supposed to be all over. I'm supposed to be as free flowing as the mountain brook as it splashes playfully down to the sea. But uh oh. All of a sudden - that problem.

Now here I must digress to educate readers who are more into Seinfeld, Dershewitz, and Larry King than the Rambam or Rashi, the great Torah commentators. We Jews have an exalted view of HE who created the cosmos and the capillary: HE who activates the pulse of the migrating Monarch butterfly, the mother fox who knows to suckle her young, and the astronomer who peers into the Milky Way. C. S. Lewis, the great Christian philosopher, calls our bodies: "vast and perilous estates pulsating with the energy that made the worlds". We Jews share his awe of the human frame and understand that we only lease these earthly quarters. Laced with a million possibilities for failure, the body only works because of some sleight of hand we don't understand. It's operation is a mathematical nightmare. A defiance of the laws of probability that would make an engineer wince. Thought, sensation, breathing, digestion, locomotion, elimination all depend on a synchronous performance by a set of perfectly functioning systems. A speck of dust in a pink passageway and you're toast.

To declare their admiration, awe, and thanks for these beneficent operations, observant Jews have a daily prayer - Asher Yotzar. You create man with "many openings and hollows" it says. And if "one of them were to be ruptured...or blocked, it would be impossible to survive". It goes on to say, "Blessed are you Lord who heals all flesh and acts wondrously".

Now from the sublime back to my bedroom, eerily illuminated by the nightlight. My "hollows" - one of them - as blocked up as Pharaoh's heart.

Back to the ER? Unbearable.

Then I saw it on the bedside table. My son - impelled by a faith far stronger than mine - had sent it. A large, garish, laminated poster. The prayer, Asher Yotzar, in the middle surrounded by cartoonlike illustrations. Primitive, almost laughable, especially to me: a tightly affiliated but imperfect Jew, whose mitzvah batting average does not qualify me as a Hall of Famer.

But there are no atheists in foxholes or the ER as any nurse will testify. And when you're drowning in a sea of suffering, if they throw you a noodle lifeline, you'll hang on.

I read the prayer as I ached. Twice. In English and Hebrew. The ardor, the passion of my Yom Kippur prayers was a whisper compared to this whirlwind. I said it twice, reading each word slowly and distinctly. I wanted no misunderstanding of my plight or my passion. The Master Healer must have a clear, comprehensive diagnosis.

And then it happened. Relief. No ER, no intrusive techniques. Asher Yotzar - an internet engine of such power that it immediately reaches the sublime portal. Petitioners, penitents, praisers, pleaders worldwide, all simultaneously trying to connect. Human crevices and corridors stopped up all over this troubled world. Billions of prayers - airborne - shading the earth itself; and MINE, on the wings of Asher Yotzar went through.

It stands now on my bedroom wall. (You can get a copy of your own by calling 1-800-700-9577.) I admit that the ER number also is scribbled in pencil on a pad on my night table. But it's well below Asher Yotzar and rapidly fading in the sunlight streaming through the bedroom windows.