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In The Jewish Tradition

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Psalm 23


A Jewish reading of Psalm 23 invites us on a meditation, a journey — so each line takes you to a spiritually and emotionally different place. “Adonai is my shepherd” — enter that, feel for the moment what it would be like to allow yourself to utterly trust, to be taken care of even in the most difficult circumstances, not to have to exert your will, your ego, your needs — just to trust “I shall not want,” I shall not be left bereft or lacking.

The next two lines are you, your soul, your heart, feeling that you can let go for a moment, an hour, a day, because you are taken care of, you are not alone in this universe, you are safe, you are cared for, you are in a meadow, lying down as a lamb might, in a moment of peace, a thrist-satisfying spring right near you.

And once you let yourself trust — Not your ego, not your sense of self, but your soul, a deeper aspect of your being, is freed to know that even though we are all mortal, even though life is fragile, even though death is painfully real, the awakening to being “held” by God, being led by a spirit greater than ourselves (the rod, the staff, the people, the tradition, the love) — whatever our “Shepherd” holds in his or her hands — we can find comfort there.

And then you let your body relax. You sit at a table set before you despite all your “enemies” — meaning your fears, your anguish, the things that haunt and undermine and frighten and cause you despair — and you find a kind of holy peace. God is anointing you, just as if you were royalty.

And when you get to that moment, the goodness within you and the sense of mercy, chesed, lovingkindness, envelops you as if it were oil pouring down you, and you know, at that moment, you are safe. You are held. You are not alone in the universe.

A Psalm of David—
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want;
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He guides me in straight paths for His name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me;
Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.

Thou prepare a table before me in the presence of mine enemies;
Though has anointed my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.
And I shall dwell in the House of the Lord forever.

Chant - I Give My Soul

From Adon Olam, a regular part of the daily and Shabbat liturgy has two lines at the end that have been added to some version of the Vidui and have brought such comfort to patients I have been with during their final moments.


I give my soul to You
My spirit in Your hands
Draw me near
I shall not fear,
Safely in Your hands
Draw me near
I shall not fear
Safely in your

B’yado afkid ruchi
B’et isham v’a’irah
V-im ruchi gi’viati,
Adonai li v’lo ira

Traditional Vidui

In accompanying Jews as they were dying I offered them the Vidui, the end-of-life prayer that our rabbis created for this moment. The returning of one’s soul to G d at the end of its journey in this world is probably the most profound moment in a person’s life. The Vidui reminds us that what really matters is our relationship with other human beings and G-d, and not material possessions or accomplishments. In its three parts: we ask for forgiveness from those we have hurt. It asks the Divine’s protection for family and those we love before it invites us to chant the central prayer of Judaism, “The Shema” which represents the unification of the soul with G-d. I will say this prayer as if I were you. If you know the Shema, which I will chant first in Hebrew, please join me.


Adonai, our God and God of our ancestors, we acknowledge that all life is in Your hands. May it be Your will to send healing…. Yet if the end is imminent, forgive all the times wrongs were committed. Forgive my shortcomings. Grant the reward of righteous and give eternal life in your Presence.

Guardian of the bereaved, protect the beloved family, for their lives are interconnected in the bond of love.

In Your hand lies my spirit. You have redeemed me, Adonai, God of Truth.

Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad
Hear, O Israel: Adonai is our God, Adonai is one, Adonai is God, Adonai is God.

We praise God’s glorious soveignty through all time.

Adonai reigns, Adonai has reigned. Adonai shall reign forever and ever. Adonis is God.

Liberal Vidui

In accompanying Jews as they were dying I offered them the Vidui, the end-of-life prayer that our rabbis created for this moment. The returning of one’s soul to G d at the end of its journey in this world is probably the most profound moment in a person’s life. The Vidui reminds us that what really matters is our relationship with other human beings and G-d, and not material possessions or accomplishments. In its three parts: we ask for forgiveness from those we have hurt. It asks the Divine’s protection for family and those we love before it invites us to chant the central prayer of Judaism, “The Shema” which represents the unification of the soul with G-d. I will say this prayer as if I were you. If you know the Shema, which I will chant first in Hebrew, please join me.


(a liberal alternative by Rabbi Rami M. Shapiro)

I acknowledge before the Source of All that life and death are not in my hands.
Just as I did not choose to be born, so I do not choose to die.
May it come to pass that I may be healed, but if death is my fate,
then I accept it with dignity, knowing that all who live must die.
May my death be honorable, and may my life be a healing memory
for those I leave behind.

Protect my dear ones when I am gone
and help them find strength to accept my passing.
May the memory of my love enfold them always.

From all those I may have hurt, I ask forgiveness.
Upon all who have hurt me, I bestow forgiveness.

As a wave returns to the ocean, so I return to the Source from which I came.

Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad.
Hear O Israel, that which we call God is Oneness itself.
Blessed is the Way of God, the way of life and death,
of coming and going, of meeting and loving, now and forever.

As I came from the unknown into this world,
so now I pass into the great peace that lies beyond this world.
Shalom, shalom, shalom.

Vidui in Hebrew (Audio Only)

For Those Who Are Ill (Audio Only)


In my illness, O God, I turn to You, for I am Your creation. Your strength and courage are in my spirit, and Your powers of healing are within my body and my soul. May it be Your will to restore me to health and a feeling of wholeness. As I go on my way toward healing, grant me the strength to get through each day, the courage to bear the unbearable, and the ability to keep my hopes and dreams alive. When the challenges of life get me down, help me to focus on what is good and precious in my life, for You have blessed me with so many wonderful things. Comfort me, Eternal One, in Your shelter of peace and be my help and guide along the path of life. May the One who makes peace in the Heavens, bring peace to me, to my family and loved ones, and to us all.

In Prolonged Illness (Audio Only)


My God and God of all generations, in my great need I pour out my heart to You. The days and weeks of suffering are hard to endure. In my struggle, let me feel that You are near, a presence whose care enfolds me. Rouse in me the strength to overcome fear and anxiety, and brighten my spirit with the assurance of Your love. Help me to help my dear ones in their striving to strengthen and encourage me. Let the healing power within me – Your gift to me – give me strength on my journey. May my sickness not weaken my faith in You, nor diminish my love for others. For my illness may I gain fuller sympathy for all who suffer.

Hope (Audio Only)


There are times when each of us is sick with the world
And life weighs upon us like a heavy bolder
We cannot imagine any good or happy thought
We sink further and deeper into the pit of our despairs.

There are times when each of us feels sorely hurt
The very thing we love the most has been taken away
We feel empty, we fell alone, we are afraid.

There are moments all human beings share
When their hearts sink and their minds entertain the worst
Fear assails us all, we tremble and shake at problems facing us.

At these times a little voice from within us rouses us
Often waiting until we reach the very brink of despair
At first nothing more than a whisper,
It tells us that we can indeed prevail

This little voice abiding in each of us is – hope.
It is not logical or even reasonable.
It is our heart telling our head that we cannot surrender
For to give in to the trials of life is to let them win over us.

From a whisper hope grows slowly
First in a moderate tone and finally to a roar
It supersedes, fear, sorrow, and even despair.
It gives us the courage to try again.

Hope abides in each of us giving us the energy to survive.
It gives us the strength to turn to God and offer praise.

About Spiritual Library Contributors

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Muriel Dance

Muriel Dance served as a Jewish Chaplain Intern at UCLA Medical Center and as a hospice Chaplain at Skirball hospice, part of the Jewish Home in Los Angeles. She is a Board Certified Chaplain and earned her PhD in English.
 


 
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Emily Kass

Emily is a family member of a former UCLA Health patient, as well as an active member of various Jewish communities, including Hillel. She now serves as the Community Engagement Manager at Swipe Out Hunger, a national nonprofit (started at UCLA) working towards ending college student hunger. She is honored and proud to have been part of this project in remembrance of her mom.

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