Tikkun Magazine, Winter 2011
The Missing Ingredient
by Rabbi Miriam Maron
Once (in the 4th century) there was a severe drought across Babylon, and the people came to Rabbi Papa for help. After all, he was the social activist par excellence of the time. The elder responded by decreeing a day of fasting and prayer for the community, but still no rain fell. At midday he prayed again, and still no rain fell. As the day wore on, he found himself desperately hungry and could no longer contain himself. He finally caved in and had a plate of food brought to him and gorged himself, licking the plate completely clean. He then prayed again, but still no rain fell. His colleague, Rabbi Nachmon bar Ish'prati, then remarked sarcastically, "Perhaps if the master were to gulp down one more plate, it would surely bring the rains." Rabbi Papa felt hurt by Nachmon's words. And in that moment, it began to rain (Talmud Bavli, Taanit 24b).
Strange that the rains didn't fall until someone hurt Rabbi Papa's feelings.
It would appear, however, that Rabbi Papa was perhaps not really completely empathetic with the plight of his community. He was the head rabbi, so of course it was expected of him that he would take some kind of action, like decreeing a day of fasting and prayer. But social activism requires more than a functionary response to society's maladies. It requires heartfelt empathy. Nowhere else was it ever recorded that Rabbi Papa had any trouble abstaining from food on any other occasion that called for fasting. On this occasion, however, he could barely contain himself, and when he finally gave in, he did not partake of just enough to calm his hunger pangs but went all out and gulped down a platterful. It would seem therefore that his heart was not really in it, in the fasting or the prayer -- or more to the point -- in the dire consequences that the drought had wreaked upon the community. It is not enough to pray for someone in trouble. You have to come as close as you can to actually feel their suffering. You have to be moved to pray. Our tradition therefore instructs us that when we visit the sick, for example, we need to pay attention to their moaning and groaning so that we might "be moved to pray for compassion on their behalf" (Talmud Bavli, Nedarim 40, and Shulchan Aruch, Yorah De'ah 335:8). Action on behalf of others requires us, as much as possible, to feel their plight.
And so indeed, no rains fell. Not until Rabbi Papa's own heart was set afire, not until he himself felt some degree of personal suffering which opened his awareness wide enough to truly know the suffering of others. It was only then that the skies opened and the rains fell. God desires the heart, the ancients taught (Talmud Bavli, Sanhedrin 106b). After all, "that is where the Holy of Holies resides" (Tikunei Zohar, folio 137a).
Rabbi Miriam Maron, B.S.N., R.N., M.A., is a spiritual healer and mentor who teaches kabbalistic and Jewish shamanic healing modalities and sacred dance. A singer and songwriter, she has seven albums to her credit. Her website is www.miriamscyberwell.com.
Source Citation: Maron, Miriam. The Missing Ingredient. Tikkun 26(1): online exclusive.