Prayer is a funny thing. I guess it’s like an N95 protective mask to guard you against COVID-19. You don’t realize how valuable and precious it is until you’re without it, and sadly we are all running low. For the past 25 years of my career as an emergency physician, I bet my partner Dr. Jaime Harper and I have passed by them on the droplet isolation precaution carts a thousand times without so much as giving them a second glance. Just a simple box of masks that now may be all that separates us from dying. From not being able to grow old with the people we love. Now we get dressed, we go to work, we hug our spouses and kids goodbye, and we wonder.
We sometimes forget about prayer. We pass by it on a daily basis. It waves to us at times, trying to get our attention like a child wanting to catch a ball with a father too wrapped up in a business call to notice.
Some years ago, my oldest son fell ill with leukemia. Jaime came to visit him in the hospital in New York. She brought mandel bread. It was the worst singular period of time in my life, but at the same time it was also the most immersive and incredibly spiritually awakening experience. All because I found prayer then. I showered in it. I drank it, soaked myself in its soothing waters, and I let it pour over me. I surrendered to it. But as things go, sadly, I let it fade a bit over time.
Jaime and I are both alumni of Lori Palatnik’s vision of Judaic awakening. Jaime recently went on the Momentum trip to Israel, and she will tell you it was one of the greatest moments in her life. A few years prior, I had gone on the men’s trip to Israel. We both made friends we will carry with us forever— friends that have been flooding us with texts of support and offers of food and a deluge of “hey, hang in there, we’re proud of you, we love you, and we’re praying for you.” One such text came from Lori Palatnik.
“How bad is it?” she asked.
“Bad as bad can be, Lori,” I responded.
“In the last war here in Israel, someone out there made a website matching people to soldiers. Every soldier had someone praying for them … What is your Jewish name and mother’s Jewish name? Not only do you have someone davening (praying) for you—it’s me,” she tells me.
Later that night, I donned my mask, my gown, my goggles, and gloves, and walked into the room where the man of about sixty lay gasping and coughing. He labored with each breath, a look of fatigue and panic spreading across his mottled face. I thought to myself:
I wonder who is praying for him. I wonder who is praying for the rest of us.
Louis Profeta is an emergency physician.
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