A Blessing for Medication

Image: Blister packs of pills. Photo by Pexels/Pixabay.

In the traditional daily service, one prayer begins, “You are forever mighty, Adonai, you are the Giver of life to the dead.”

The Reform Movement in the United States  altered that prayer many years ago and changed the wording to “…who gives life to all.” In the 19th and 20th centuries, the feeling among Reform leadership in the U.S. was that a future resurrection of dead bodies was an unscientific superstition. They altered the words of the prayer so that the words made more sense to them.

However, the most recent revision of our siddur [prayer book] offers both versions of the prayer. While most of our congregations use the “…who gives life to all” formulation, “Giver of life to the dead” is back in the book.  The editors believed it was important to recognize both the history and the current usage. Also, restoration of the traditional language restored the prayer to match the language in liberal siddurim worldwide.

I personally think a future resurrection of the dead is extremely unlikely, although I’m willing to be surprised. However, I am fond of the older form of the prayer, and when I am not the shaliach tzibur, the service leader, I quietly say “…Giver of life to the dead.”

Here’s why: besides death of the body, there are other profound kinds of death from which fortunate individuals may be brought back to life. I have heard addicts describe active addiction in such terms; when they committed to recovery, they began a return to life. I have watched my own brother return from a five-week coma.

In my own experience, severe clinical depression created a kind of death. In 2002 I became so depressed that I could not stop weeping. I forgot to eat. I was unable to sleep. I became careless of my safety crossing streets. A classmate quite literally dragged me to the school authorities and demanded they get me to a doctor. When the doctor prescribed an anti-depressant, I took it without hope. My friend made sure I took my pill every day until I was sufficiently recovered to remember it myself.  I am convinced that had he not done so, I would not have survived the year.

I say this blessing before I take the pill every day, because this medicine did indeed return a dead person to life. And when I say the blessing as part of the service, I give thanks for that friend, and for the doctor, because they were agents of the God who returned me to life. The medication is only part of a program that keeps me healthy, but without it, I would not have survived to do any of the rest of it. Without it I was indeed already dead.

If you take daily medication for a mental or emotional illness, I offer you this blessing. It reminds one that it is indeed a mitzvah to preserve our own lives.

Baruch Ata Adonai, Eloheinu Melech haolam, meh-chay-yeh may-tim.

Blessed are You, Adonai, our God, Ruler of Time and Space, who gives life to the dead.

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Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, granny, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at http://coffeeshoprabbi.com/ and teaches at Jewish Gateways in Albany, CA.

7 thoughts on “A Blessing for Medication”

  1. Rabbi,
    You wrote, “a future resurrection of dead bodies was an unscientific superstition.” It’s amazing that one can be so selective in choosing one’s unscientific beliefs. This is not a criticism of you, but, rather, seems to be my reaction to the amazing selectivity of the Reform Movement.

    1. The Reform movement never laid claim to any kind of systematic theology (nor, for that matter, has any other movement of Judaism.) Systematics is a Christian thing, part of their Greek heritage.

      But while we’re on the subject, it sounds like we profess some unscientific beliefs that bother you a lot. Care to share?

  2. Another context for this prayer is when you see someone whom you have not seen for a long time. (I don’t recall what the duration is that invokes use of the prayer.) But it would have applied to my late father-in-law, Jerry Kaye z”l, who visited New York, where he grew up, after about a 50-year absence, and saw people from his youth. (One of them saw him, said, “Hey, Jerry, haven’t seen you for a while,” and walked on.)

  3. You’re correct. The Reform movement never laid claim to any kind of systematic theology. There is, however, a pattern that they follow: Check to anticipate what the trend is in the wider culture, and then jump on board. It does at least have a certain consistency.

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