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In June 2013, feeling great, I was on a family vacation, walking in the Adirondacks, when my oncologist called with the alarming news that a routine test showed that my lymphoma had returned in a more aggressive form. My wife and I sat anxiously holding hands in his office and I had no choice but to begin chemotherapy immediately before it was too late. This would be my fourth battle with cancer and maybe my last.

On the very eve of Yom Kippur, our Day of Atonement, life giving drugs were infused into my body through a port implanted in my chest. If you wonder why a Rabbi would be in the hospital and not in his Synagogue offering prayers it’s because our God is a God of life and we are taught that saving a human life supercedes almost all of the commandments.

With the medicine coursing through me I was offering fervent personal prayers. These were not exactly the literal words of the Psalm which begins: “I lift my eyes to the mountains, from whence cometh my help…” I learned to personalize my prayers many years ago when I first faced leukemia and my Christian friends held my hand and prayed with me at my bedside and said: “Lord, please help our friend Hirshel. He wants to live to see his children grow up and rejoice in happy times.”

Yes, my friends taught me how to pray, and one night when I was all alone in my hospital bed, and shaking with awful fevers and chills, instead of praying “I lift my eyes to the mountains” I said:

“Dear God, please help me. I’m not asking You to get me all the way up the mountain, but could You hold my hand and keep me from falling all the way down the mountain into the abyss.”

And those words were comforting to me.

Friends, when you pray for strength:

May the words that come from your heart give you the strength you surely possess.
@TheRunningRabbi (Click to Tweet!)

Rabbi Hirshel Jaffe, a four time cancer survivor, is a motivational/inspirational speaker on the theme NEVER GIVE UP! He authored “Why Me? Why Anyone?” which chronicles his rescue from leukemia and his spiritual triumph over despair. Known as “The Running Rabbi” for competing in the NY Marathon, he received the “Award of Courage” from President Ronald Reagan in a White House ceremony. Rabbi Jaffe was one of the clergy who visited the American hostages in Iran to offer them comfort and hope and was asked by the President to greet them at the White House upon their return. He received an honorary Doctorate from his seminary for “his work with the sick, and his noble influence upon all people. You can follow him on FB.

Image courtesy of Jakub Rostkowski.